China's navy holds Indian Ocean drills

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BEIJING (AP) — A three-ship Chinese navy squadron has concluded exercises in the Indian Ocean and sailed on to the western Pacific, showing off the growing reach of the country's seagoing forces at a time of sharpening territorial disputes in regional waters.

State broadcaster CCTV said Tuesday that the squadron includes China's largest amphibious landing ship, the Changbaishan, along with a pair of destroyers. It said they reached the Indian Ocean on Jan. 29 and carried out a series of drills on the themes of counter-piracy, search and rescue, and damage control.

Although not directly targeted at India, the exercises underscore China's competition with the other Asian giant. India and China have clashed over their disputed Himalayan border and Beijing is a close ally of New Delhi's arch-rival Pakistan.

CCTV said the squadron passed through the Lombok Strait near the Indonesian island of Bali before heading north toward the Philippines. It is expected to return home through the South China Sea where Beijing is in a heated dispute with the Philippines and others over tiny islands, rich fishing grounds and a potential wealth of oil and other resources. China is also in a separate dispute with Japan over tiny uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that Tokyo controls but Beijing claims.

In order to back up those claims and extend its influence, China has been systematically developing a blue-water navy that has global reach, including launching its first aircraft carrier. China has also sent ships to join anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia and taken part in joint exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and elsewhere.

The Changbaishan is one of China's newest and most advanced ships, capable of launching helicopters and landing craft.

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