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China’s carrier group conducts exercises in South China Sea

May 2, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this April 23, 2019, file photo, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy aircraft carrier Liaoning participates in a naval parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of China's PLA Navy in the sea near Qingdao in eastern China's Shandong province. China says it is holding naval drills involving the battlegroup of the aircraft carrier Liaoning in waters near Taiwan. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool, File)
FILE - In this April 23, 2019, file photo, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy aircraft carrier Liaoning participates in a naval parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of China's PLA Navy in the sea near Qingdao in eastern China's Shandong province. China says it is holding naval drills involving the battlegroup of the aircraft carrier Liaoning in waters near Taiwan. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool, File)

BEIJING (AP) — China’s Shandong aircraft carrier group has recently conducted routine annual exercises in the South China Sea, the People’s Liberation Army said Sunday, after Beijing criticized the U.S. for sending Navy ships into the strategic area.

The Chinese Defense Ministry last week urged the U.S. to restrain its front-line forces in the air and seas near China. U.S. reconnaissance aircraft and warships have become more active around China since President Biden took office, it said.

The South China Sea is particularly contentious because China’s smaller neighbors also have competing claims to one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, which Beijing claims virtually in its entirety. China has constructed several man-made islands in the disputed waters in what the U.S. says is a move to militarize the area.

Navy spokesperson Gao Xiucheng said in a statement that the exercises were completely legitimate and part of safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests, as well as maintaining regional peace and stability.

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“We hope the outside world will view it in an objective and rational way. In the future, the Chinese navy will continue to hold similar exercises as planned,” said Gao.

The Shandong is the second Chinese aircraft carrier to enter service after the Liaoning, which was originally purchased as a hulk from Ukraine and entirely refurbished.