Japan sends three vessels to South China Sea in anti-submarine exercise

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TOKYO/BEIJING (Reuters) - Japan's Maritime Self-defense Force conducted anti-submarine drills in the South China Sea on Oct. 9, deploying three vessels including a helicopter aircraft carrier and a submarine, according to the Japanese defence ministry.

The purpose of the exercise was "to boost their tactical capability", the ministry said in a statement, without giving more details on the geographical location of the drills.

The three vessels will stop at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam over the weekend to replenish supplies, the statement said.

The ministry could not be immediately reached for further comment.

Nearly all of the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea are claimed by China, which has established military outposts on artificial islands in the area. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the sea.

The United States has accused China of militarising the South China Sea and trying to intimidate Asian neighbours who might want to exploit the area's extensive oil and gas reserves.

China's state-backed Global Times newspaper, noting the latest Japanese drills, said on Saturday that the frequent conducting of military activities in the South China Sea is not conducive to the security and stability of the area, and is firmly opposed by China.

The Chinese People's Liberation Army has always kept a high level of alert, defending China's national sovereignty, security and development interests, said the newspaper, which is published by the People's Daily, the official newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party.

The Global Times said Japanese warships had recently carried out activities in the South China Sea, with a helicopter aircraft carrier spotted on satellite on Sept. 5.

On Friday, a Chinese military spokesperson said the U.S. destroyer John McCain had entered waters around the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea without China's permission, and urged the United States to stop "such provocative actions".

(Reporting by Sakura Murakami in Tokyo and Ryan Woo in Beijing; editing by Richard Pullin)