MANILA, Philippines - A Chinese navy fleet entered the South China Sea on Friday for patrols and drills after passing through the Bashi Channel, state media in Beijing said, quoting military sources, as tensions with neighbors over disputed waters remain high.
The official Xinhua news agency reported the navy fleet that included three Chinese warships entered the South China Sea at 03:40 GMT after five hours sailing to pass through the Bashi Channel.
The Bashi Channel, situated between Taiwan and the Philippinesâ€™ Luzon island, is an international sea route connecting the South China Sea (West Philippine 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 last Tuesday for training exercises and patrol missions in the countryâ€™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 Chinaâ€™s protests.
China also has competing claims over islands with Southeast Asian neighbors, 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 Chinaâ€™s shore. Chinese navy ships have participated in anti-piracy missions off Somalia.
But Chinaâ€™s growing defense budget, military advances and perceived lack of transparency have alarmed its neighbors and the United States.
China says it has no hostile intentions and that it is simply updating its outdated forces.
â€˜Old Spanish maps open to researchersâ€™
Meanwhile, Spainâ€™s top diplomat in the Philippines has invited China to check out the Spanish antique maps of the Philippine islands and Manila Bay spanning three centuries.
Ambassador Jorge Domecq said he had invited Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing to grace the old map exhibition but was not able to attend because of commitments.
Domecq led the opening of a map exhibition on June 30 last year with Sen. Edgardo Angara on the occasion of Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day.
â€œI remember the speech I gave at the opening where I invited the Chinese ambassador. I told her to come and share the maps after all I understood that what the Philippines is claiming before UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) is the application of UNCLOS and not the application of Philippine maps,â€ Domecq said.
Domecq said the 16th to 19th century old maps were made public to allow researchers to see the entire geography of the Philippines.
Maps dating back to the early Spanish colonial period were the standard reference for explorers and travelers and acknowledged by governments and regimes.