The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) recently held drills in the West Pacific and the South China Sea, including navy live-fire exercises and the air force conducting a "high-sea training mission." It was reported at least 40 ships and submarines participated in the naval exercises.
The exercises caught the attention of some Western media which speculated that China was flexing its muscles while trying to deter others.
There are three reasons for the drills.
First, China needs to safeguard its national interests in the region and the routine exercises are in line with China's defensive military policy.
Second, they are related to the changing international situation as some countries have made moves that strategically target China. The guided missile destroyer USS Mustin recently entered the waters around China's islands and reefs in the South China Sea. The US, Japan, Australia and India are promoting cooperation through the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and Britain was reportedly considering sending a warship to conduct freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea in 2018.
And it is also partly because of the changing Taiwan situation as the US President Donald Trump has recently signed the Taiwan Travel Act into law allowing senior-level official exchanges between the US and Taiwan. This goes against the one-China policy.
These shifts are vital and relevant to China's security. Beijing needs to make some practical preparations to confront the changes in the international situation.
Third, with China's military strength growing, we need more large drills to test and improve military combat ability. This is the normal action of any country that wants to develop its military power.
About the navy's live-fire exercises, Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said, "The purpose of the training is to test and enhance the training level of the navy and promote the troops' abilities to win wars." As we produce and put more warships as well as submarines into the military force, large exercises provide a chance for them to boost the army's war-fighting ability.
The US has turned tough on China and the bilateral trade issue has not yet been solved. Some have hyped the South China Sea issue as another factor triggering more conflicts between Beijing and Washington.
Whether the South China Sea will be a new issue depends on interaction between the two countries.
During the tenure of former president Barack Obama, the South China Sea was a hot topic and the highlight of US foreign policy. Under Trump's presidency, he has paid more attention to the North Korea nuclear issue. But if he progresses with the peninsula issue or does not make any achievement in the near future, maybe he will shift his focus to the South China Sea, raising conflicts between two countries.