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China begins naval drills in disputed South China Sea

Chinese naval vessels including an island landing ship are staging drills in the South China Sea, where China and several other nations are locked in territorial disputes.

The official Xinhua News Agency said two destroyers and China's largest amphibious landing craft departed the naval base on the southern island province of Hainan on Monday. The ships also boast three helicopters and a company of marines.

Xinhua quoted Commander Jiang Weilie as saying the drills would focus on integrated combat missions involving ships, submarines and aircraft, suggesting other units may also be involved.

China has moved sharply to assert its claim to nearly the entire South China Sea and its island groups. The Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also claim the entire sea or parts of it.