A number of naval exercises around the world are bringing attention to a more proactive Chinese foreign policy, specifically with regard to its expanding military presence.

While transiting through the Mediterranean Sea this week, a group of Chinese warships conducted live fire drills. The flotilla of vessels includes two missile frigates and a logistics ship, which are en route to a joint naval training exercise with the Russian Navy in the Baltic Sea. Dubbed “Joint Sea 2017,” the event is designed to improve coordination between the two navies for “joint defense operations at sea.”

Previously, the ships had been in port at a newly constructed Chinese military base in Djibouti. The base, China’s first forward deployed military presence, has recently begun staging Chinese troops. China insists the base is not military expansionism, but part of its growing role in peacekeeping and anti-piracy operations in Africa.

But Chinese government officials have said they will continue to conduct live fire drills following their own criticism of the U.S. deployment of the THADD missile defense shield in South Korea. Previously, China has said the THADD represents a provocation, and a destabilizing presence on the Korean peninsula.

Other recent live fire drills at sea occurred last December, when it made its first publicized exercise with China’s first aircraft carrier. China has been using its navy to force the issue over its territorial claims to contested islands and waters, and particularly with its construction of artificial islands in the South Pacific as a force projection platform.

China sees the U.S. Navy as a more experienced rival, as evident in an editorial published in the official China Daily newspaper this week. “The U.S. Navy is also more combat ready because it has been actively participating in joint drills and regional wars for decades,” and “This means China has to work harder to become a major naval power that can better defend its territorial rights and sovereignty,” according to the Associated Press.

In another indication of increasing tension with the Chinese Navy, the annual Malabar training exercise between the navies of the U.S., India, and Japan in the Bay of Bengal, is the largest and most robust since its inception in 1992. For the first time, Japan has included its ‘aircraft carrier,’ which carries only helicopters designed for a ‘self-defense’ mission. This year’s Malabar, like any military show of force through large-scale joint exercises, can be seen as a counter to China’s increasing presence in the region.

Featured image shows a previous Malabar exercise between the U.S., India, Japan, Australia, and Singapore. Courtesy of the Department of Defense