BEIJING (AP) – In a demonstration of the Chinese navy’s expanding global reach, the country’s latest-generation warships conducted live-firing drills in the Mediterranean Sea this week while en route to joint exercises with the Russian navy, the defense ministry said Wednesday.

The destroyer Hefei, frigate Yuncheng and support ship Luomahu took part in Monday’s drills involving the ship’s deck guns and small arms, the ministry said in a notice on its website.

“Maintaining a strict schedule of targeted exercises accomplishes transit, training and improvement en route, raising the flotilla’s training levels and capabilities,” it quote flotilla commander Liu Hui as saying.

FILE – In this Sept. 12, 2016, photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, officers and sailors of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy hold a welcome ceremony as a Russian naval ship arrives in port in Zhanjiang in southern China’s Guangdong Province. China says its latest-generation warships have conducted live-firing drills in the Mediterranean Sea Monday, July 10, 2017, while en route to joint exercises with the Russian navy. (Zha Chunming/Xinhua via AP, File)

The ships will next take part in the “Joint Sea 2017” exercises in waters off the Russian cities of St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad, part of growing cooperation between the countries’ militaries.

China’s navy is the world’s second-largest behind the U.S. and is increasingly operating in the Mediterranean, aided by the construction of a naval logistics base in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti.

Two naval ships departed Tuesday from the southern Chinese port of Zhanjiang with personnel to man the facility, China’s first overseas military base.

While China says the base is needed to support peacekeeping, anti-piracy and other missions in the region, Beijing’s rivalry with the U.S. is considered a key driving force behind the country’s military expansion.

“The U.S. Navy is also more combat ready because it has been actively participating in joint drills and regional wars for decades,” the official China Daily newspaper said in an editorial Wednesday.

“This means China has to work harder to become a major naval power that can better defend its territorial rights and sovereignty,” it said.

On Tuesday, China’s sole operating aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, departed Hong Kong after a visit aimed at inspiring patriotism among citizens of the former British colony that reverted to Chinese rule 20 years ago. Taiwan’s defense ministry said it was monitoring the progress of the carrier and its escorts as they traveled northward along the western portion of the Taiwan Strait.

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