China says will close part of South China Sea for military exercise

  • Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times, Beijing
  • Updated: Jul 18, 2016 21:02 IST
Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy. (Reuters File Photo)

Days after an international tribunal ruled China had no historic rights to islands in the South China Sea, Beijing announced that access to parts of the disputed region will be blocked for a few days for a naval drill beginning on Tuesday.

On July 12, a tribunal formed by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected China’s claims to exclusive economic rights across large swathes of the South China Sea in response to a petition filed by the Philippines.

China dismissed the ruling, saying the court was illegal and it had no jurisdiction to rule on the region – Beijing called the verdict a “piece of waste paper”.

Following the ruling, Beijing has been on the offensive, claiming the support scores of countries and saying it will not follow the verdict. Monday’s announcement on the naval drill came against the backdrop of China’s aggressive military posturing.

China’s Maritime Safety Administration made an announcement on Monday that ships were “prohibited” from entering a certain area off the coast of Hainan between July 19 and July 21 as the navy will conduct a drill.

The area off the east coast of China’s island province of Hainan will host military exercises, the administration said on its website, adding that entrance was “prohibited”.

“The area of sea identified is some distance from the Paracel islands and even further from the Spratlys, with both chains claimed by Beijing and several other neighbouring states,” AFP reported.

Reuters quoted a senior Chinese admiral as saying freedom of navigation patrols carried out by foreign navies in the South China Sea could end in disaster.

“When has freedom of navigation in the SCS ever been affected? It has not, whether in the past or now, and in the future there won’t be a problem as long as nobody plays tricks,” Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of the powerful Central Military Commission, was quoted as saying.

“But China consistently opposes so-called military freedom of navigation which brings with it a military threat, and which challenges and disrespects the international law of the sea,” Sun said.

“This kind of military freedom of navigation is damaging to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and it could even play out in a disastrous way,” he added.

The PLA Navy drill follows an exercise conducted by the PLA Air Force over the South China Sea, which, the government announced, will become “a regular practice” in future.

“The PLA sent H-6K bombers and other aircraft, including fighters, scouts and tankers to patrol islands and reefs including Huangyan Dao,” PLA Air Force spokesperson Shen Jinke said on Monday.

Last week, Beijing said it will hold a military drill of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that involves all five newly designated commands. It is the most elaborate drill in recent times that will go on till September.

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