Two of China's most advanced warships have docked in Hong Kong, in what some see as a deliberate display of China's naval strength.
This comes amid a statemement by the Chinese naval commander that the recent joint US-Philippine drill in the South China Sea did not "target" any particular country.
The warships in the 10th Chinese Naval Escort Taskforce - the Yuncheng 571 frigate and Haikou 171 destroyer - arrived in Hong Kong's Stonecutters army base on Monday for a five-day visit.
The ships carry missile-firing capacities and represent two of the Chinese navy's main battleships, according to a People's Liberation Army press release.
The visit coincided with high-level US-Philippine security talks in Washington, as the US refocuses its foreign policy on Asia.
The Yuncheng 571 and Haikou 171 had been based in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia since November 2011, where they escorted 240 ships and saved one boat from pirates' attack, according to the PLA's press release.
The Chinese navy will host a few more opening sessions before the warships leaves for mainland China on Friday.
China has maritime spats with several countries in the South China Sea, believed to be rich in oil and gas and crossed by important shipping lanes, and its neighbours fear its growing naval reach in staking claim to a number of disputed areas.
Some of those disputes are pushing the Philippines to seek closer co-operation with the US, which in turn has prompted China to warn the US against getting involved.
Real Admiral Li Shihong, who commands the Chinese taskforce and also works as the deputy chief of staff of the South China Sea Fleet, says that he does not think the recent joint drill by the Philippines and the US was targeted at China.
"No matter which country it is, doing a joint regular exercise and drill on the sea is, I think, normal," Li said on Monday.
"So far, I do not think it [the US-Philippine drill] targets any country. Of course, when they take certain action in a certain region, everyone will have different views on the issue and this is completely normal."
International Crisis Group (ICG), a think-tank, issued a report last week sounding a warning on the escalating tensions in the South China Sea region.
Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, ICG's project director of North East Asia and its China adviser, said the rising tension could benefit the Chinese navy based in the South China Sea.
"In China, the South Sea Fleet, which is the one responsible for the South China Sea, has traditionally been the least well-endowed of all the three fleets. And so these tensions in the South China Sea is the perfect justification for their modernisation," Kleine-Ahlbrandt said.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|