Smarting under the adverse verdict by The Hague-based international tribunal in the South China Sea dispute, Beijing has flexed its military muscles by unveiling a range of new weapons, including long-range missiles.
The move comes amid calls by China’s top officials to be combat-ready following a landmark verdict by a UN-backed tribunal that struck down China's "historical rights" in the South China Sea.
The Southern Theatre Command of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) which looks after the South China Sea front has unveiled a series of new weapons for sea and air combat during a visit by top military officers.
The weapons were shown on state television in the wake of a landmark international tribunal verdict rejecting Beijing's claims to almost all of the South China Sea and upheld the claim of the Philippines.
Military experts said the rare public display was intended to show that the newly formed Southern Theatre Command, was well-prepared for any potential military confrontation with the US, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported today.
The display conceded with the visit to the centre by General Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), China's highest military official after President Xi Jinping. Xi heads the CMC and the overall high command of the PLA.
Fan has called on troops to be ready for combat and for improvements in equipment and logistical preparation.
Officers and soldiers need to be aware of current threats to China's sovereignty, security and interests, state-run Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying in an official statement.
He asked the military to research combat methods and strategies pertinent to different situations and foster special forces reserved for key missions and scenarios.
"Air and sea patrols should be tightly organised to handle all kinds of emergencies and safeguard air and sea security in border areas," Fan said.
Fan was accompanied by Gen Ma Xiaotian, commander of the PLA Air Force and General Wei Fenghe, chief of the army's Rocket Force, which operates the country's missile arsenal.
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said Fan's visit indicated that the southern command could carry out joint combat operations of land, rocket, naval and air forces as well as other strategic support forces.
"All the weapons showed on state media are defensive arms of short to medium range within 1,500 km, meaning China so far is using restrained deterrence to warn the US not to challenge Beijing's bottom line in the South China Sea," Li said.
State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of troops in the southern theatre handling the DF-16 missile, which has a range up to 1,000 km, the report said.
The missile, which was first displayed on September 3 last year in a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war, could strike US military bases in Okinawa.
Earlier reports said the southern theatre was equipped with DF-21Ds, or "carrier-killer" anti-ship ballistic missiles, which have a range of 1,450 km.
The CCTV footage also showed new H-6K bombers. A division of the jets has been deployed to the southern theatre to patrol Scarborough Shoal, the report said.
Chinese air force has carried out air patrols in over the South China Sea after the tribunal appointed by Permanent Court of Arbitration, (PCA) struck down China’s claims over all most of the area based on historic rights.
China, which has boycotted the tribunal proceedings, has rejected US’ calls to implement the verdict. Beijing has asserted that it would not back down from its claims.
China's claims over the South China Sea were fiercely contested by Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
(With PTI inputs)