The South China Sea is a highly contested region and faces competing claims from China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines. Diplomatic relations between the nations are already extremely strained.
Over recent months, Beijing has asserted its dominance in the region and has built several military bases on some of the atolls.
Now, according to China’s state broadcaster, aircraft assigned to the South Sea Fleet released “thousands of munitions” during the May 14 and 15 drills.
During the exercises, pilots trained in “precision strike” and “saturation attack” as warplanes dropped bombs, anti-ship rockets and autocannon fire at floating targets in the sea.
Images shared on China’s Weibo social network site show the drills took place just off the coast of the Hainan province in southern China.
The Global Times said the drills came after a US warship was accused of “trespassing” into Chinese territorial waters.
Last week, China “expelled” a US guided-missile destroyer after it was accused of “trespassing” into Beijing’s territorial waters.
A spokesman for China’s Southern Theatre Command said China will “resolutely safeguard” its sovereignty and security in the highly contested region.
The US Navy released a statement explaining why the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, USS Curtis Wilbur, was complying with international law.
READ MORE: South China Sea: Beijing makes strategic claims using Himalayas
Fears have erupted over recent weeks that under Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing will use military force to reunify Taiwan with mainland China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said last month: “I wish to emphasise that abiding by the One China principle is one of the things that is key to China-Australia relations.
“Taiwan is a part of Chinese territory which cannot be separated.
“The Taiwan issue is entirely China’s internal affair and is related to China’s core interests and we won’t accept any external forces meddling or interfering in this.”
Pressure is mounting on ‘Quad’ members – including Australia, Japan, India and the US – to counter against China’s dominance over Taiwan.
Last weekend, the UK deployed HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Indo-Pacific region in a bid to aid in countering Beijing’s dominance.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace warned about China’s increasing maritime assertiveness and stressed troops would be “confident but not confrontational”.
Mr Wallace added: “We must stand up for our values and rights wherever they come under threat, not just in our backyard, but far from our shores.
“This deployment shows that we are strong on our own, but even stronger with our allies.”
However, concerns were raised about the security risks of sailing into the South China Sea.