BEIJING, China - A Chinese navy fleet entered the South China Sea on Friday for patrols and drills after passing through the Bashi Channel, state media said quoting military sources, as tensions with neighbours over disputed waters remain high.
The official Xinhua news agency reported that the navy fleet including three Chinese warships entered the South China Sea at 03:40GMT after five hours sailing to pass through the Bashi Channel.
The Bashi Channel, situated between Taiwan and the Philippines' Luzou Island, is an international sea route connecting the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
Official broadcaster CCTV (China Central Television) reported the three ships, all from the North China Sea Fleet of the PLA Navy, are scheduled to carry out patrol missions and multiple training exercises in the South China Sea in the next couple of days.
The PLA Navy fleet departed Qingdao port in east China on Tuesday (January 29) for training exercises and patrol missions in the country's territorial waters. The fleet has sailed more than 1,200 nautical miles so far.
Last year tensions flared between China and Japan after Japan purchased disputed islands from a private owner despite China's protests.
China has also has competing claims over islands with Southeast Asian neighbours including the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Chinese President Hu Jintao has made boosting the navy a priority, especially in trying to turn it into a blue-water fleet able to operate far from China's shore, and Chinese ships have participated in anti-piracy missions off Somalia.
But China's growing defence budget, military advances and perceived lack of transparency have alarmed its neighbours and the United States.
China says it has no hostile intentions and that it is simply updating its outdated forces.