China’s navy has conducted what it called “confrontation” exercises in the Sea of Japan, part of routine annual drills, state media said Friday.

The drills, which took place Thursday, come as China seeks to create a navy capable of force projection greater distances away from its shores.

They also come amid a heated dispute with Tokyo over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. China has in recent weeks ramped up its activity in the area surrounding the islets, which it also claims and calls the Diaoyus.

Friday’s report by the state-run People’s Liberation Army Daily did not cite the exact location of the exercises, saying only that they took place in a “certain area of the Sea of Japan.”

It said several of the vessels that took part in the drills were on their way home from the U.S.-hosted Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise held in Hawaii. This year, China took part in the massive exercise for just the second time.

“The precession strike against ‘enemy’ maritime strength jointly launched by warships and naval aviation force … was highlighted in the confrontation drill,” the report said, stressing that the exercise was carried out in compliance with international law.

“Exercises far out at sea in international waters are common among the world’s navies, and this year our navy has conducted many exercises far out in the western Pacific,” the report said.

“This exercise is part of annual training arrangements, is not aimed at any specific country, region or target, and accords with international law and practice,” it added.

A separate report by the official Xinhua News Agency cited an unidentified military source as saying that foreign aircraft had attempted surveillance during the drill and “were met with the proper response from the Chinese warships.”

Malcolm Cook, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said the exercises showed that “China is committed to developing a blue-water navy with a global reach and one that can counter the U.S. and Japan.”

“China has long feared being boxed in … and has increased naval exercises and voyages in and around the key choke points between China’s coast and the Western Pacific,” Cook said.

Tensions between China and Japan have mounted after a flotilla of Chinese coast guard ships and other vessels sailed near Senkakus this month.

Sino-U.S. relations have also seen rocky times after a ruling by a U.N.-backed court that effectively nixed China’s historical claims to much of the disputed South China Sea.

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