• The drills include mine hunting, helicopter operations and rescue missions
  • A U.S. Arleigh Burke-class destroyer was also spotted southwest of Taiwan on Tuesday
  • Taiwan recently said China may invade the island in the pretense of a military drill 

The disputed waterways of the South China Sea continue to be on the boil as China's military plans at least three live-fire drills from Wednesday. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) drill comes a day after the U.S. sent a spy plane over the no-entry zones marked out by Chinese maritime safety authorities.

The drills are being conducted in waters to the east and south of Hainan Island and in the Beibu Gulf, known as the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam, reported South China Morning Post, quoting local maritime safety authorities.

According to China's military mouthpiece PLA Daily, the troops recently held another live-fire drill last week that ran for several days. The drills by PLA South Sea Fleet included main gun firing, mine hunting, helicopter operations and rescue missions.

Interestingly, a day before the PLA drills, the U.S. Air Force is said to have sent an RC-135W spy plane over the no-entry zones marked out by Chinese maritime safety authorities.

According to the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI), a Beijing-based think tank, the aircraft conducted a close-in reconnaissance alongside China's coast on Tuesday.

The spy plane left the US military base in Okinawa and flew near the Guangdong coastline and Hainan Island on a patrol that "highly matched" the locations of the planned PLA drills, the SCSPI said.

The report said the drills were initially planned for an earlier date but were postponed due to the COVID-19 situation and "frequent visits to the region by American aircraft and warships."

The U.S. has carried out a record number of spy flights over the South China Sea last month. The SCSPI said American spy planes made 94 of these sorties in November, an increase of nearly 30 percent from the previous high.

The think tank had also said that a U.S. Arleigh Burke-class destroyer was recently spotted to the southwest of Taiwan on Tuesday, hinting at another Taiwan Strait transit, amid increasing war threats looming in the region.

The increasing frequency of military drills has also prompted the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense to warn that Beijing may use military drills as a pretense to launch an attack on the self-ruled democracy.

The PLA will launch various missiles and destroy Taiwan’s air defense sites, radar stations and command posts, the Ministry said in a report.

While Beijing will send PLA troops to Taiwan’s southeast coast, a fleet of Navy ships will be deployed as a strategic blockade on Western Pacific, the report added.

Chinese troops take part in marching drills ahead of an October 1 military parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China
File picture of Chinese troops taking part in marching drills. POOL / WANG ZHAO