Russia And China To Hold Joint Exercises In South China Sea
Move could worsen tensions after loss of court ruling by Beijing
The Chinese and Russian navies will hold joint exercises in the South China Sea in September, the Chinese defence ministry said on Thursday.
The announcement comes just two weeks after an international tribunal dismissed Beijing’s expansive claims in the region, in a ruling that Beijing has vowed to ignore.
Speaking at the Chinese defence ministry’s monthly briefing, Yang Yujun described the exercise as “routine”, adding that it was “not directed against any third parties”.
The ministry did not provide any further details about the planned exercises. Last year, the Chinese and Russian navies conducted joint operations in the Sea of Japan.
The decision to hold exercises in the South China Sea is likely to exacerbate tensions in the region amid a flurry of activity by Beijing in the wake of the tribunal’s ruling on July 12.
Chinese diplomats successfully persuaded a meeting of Asean foreign ministers this week not to refer to the ruling in a joint statement. While Beijing is embroiled in South China Sea disputes with Asean countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia, it has been able to count on support from other members of the bloc that are heavily dependent on Chinese investment, such as Cambodia and Laos.
John Kerry, US secretary of state, also attended the Asean meeting in Vientiane, the Laos capital, where he urged China and its neighbours to renew diplomatic efforts.
In a show of force just days ahead of the July 12 ruling, the Chinese navy held exercises in the South China Sea. China’s air force later said that it would conduct regular patrols across the region.
Mr Yang declined to elaborate on the air patrols but reiterated that China had a sovereign right to establish an “air defence identification zone” over the region if it chose.
In 2013, the Chinese military declared an air-defence identification zone over the East China Sea, where Beijing has overlapping maritime claims with Japan and South Korea.
US navy spy planes, operating out of bases in Japan, conduct regular patrols of the Chinese coastline. Admiral John Richardson, the head of the US navy, said on a visit to Beijing last week that his ships would also continue their periodic “freedom of navigation” exercises near contested islands.
The tribunal held that, regardless of who actually owns contested reefs, many of which have been transformed into man-made islands by China and other claimants, the features do not entitle their owners to expansive “exclusive economic zones”.
Through its effective control of such islands, some of which are now equipped with airstrips, the tribunal ruled that China had illegally blocked the Philippines from developing fisheries and potential energy reserves in its own EEZ.