China to hold military drills around disputed Paracels

 Crew members of China's South Sea Fleet taking part in a drill in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on May 5.
Crew members of China's South Sea Fleet taking part in a drill in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on May 5. PHOTO: AFP

S. China Sea exercises come ahead of international tribunal's ruling on Beijing's claims in area

BEIJING • China will hold military drills in the disputed South China Sea, the government said yesterday, ahead of an international tribunal ruling on Beijing's maritime claims in the resource-rich area.

The drills will be held in waters around the Paracel Islands from July 5 to 11, with other ships prohibited from entering the waters in that time, a short statement by the maritime safety administration said.

In a brief online statement, China's maritime safety administration gave coordinates for the drills that cover an area from the east of China's Hainan Island down to and including the Paracels.

China has built a runway on Woody Island, the site of the largest Chinese presence on the Paracels, and placed surface-to-air missiles there, according to US officials.

The military exercises come as an international tribunal in The Hague prepares to rule on a case brought by the Philippines challenging China's claims in the strategic waterway. A ruling is expected on July 12.

Manila lodged the suit against Beijing in early 2013, saying that after 17 years of negotiations it had exhausted all political and diplomatic avenues to settle the dispute.

A special five-member tribunal established by the court in 2013 will also decide on the size of maritime zones around rocks and reefs in the Spratly archipelago off the Philippine coast. In addition, it will rule on whether China has caused environmental damage in constructing an artificial island at Mischief Reef.

China has refused to participate in the proceedings, saying that the tribunal has no jurisdiction over the case, and has insisted that it will ignore its rulings.

China's official Xinhua news agency called it a "law-abusing tribunal".

Basing its claims on a vaguely defined "nine-dash" Chinese map dating back to the 1940s, Beijing has rapidly turned reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes. Manila contends that the "nine-dash" line has no basis under international law and Beijing has no "historic" claim to the ocean.

Tensions in the South China Sea have alarmed other nations, most notably the US, which has key defence treaties with many allies in the region and, in a show of strength, has sent warships close to some of the Chinese-claimed reefs.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a speech to mark the 95th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party last week that China will never compromise on sovereignty, and that the country is "not afraid of trouble".

In an apparent stab at the US, Mr Xi said: "We will not show up at other people's front doors to flex our muscles. That does not show strength or scare anyone."

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to the waterway.

REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2016, with the headline 'China to hold military drills around disputed Paracels'. Print Edition | Subscribe