Asia Pacific

China set to conduct military drills in South China Sea less than a week after U.S. patrol

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

China has announced that it will hold military exercises in the South China Sea all day Thursday, the country’s Maritime Safety Administration said in a short statement on its website.

The statement, posted to the site Wednesday, ordered nonmilitary vessels to stay away, giving the coordinates for a section of the waters just south of Hainan island and northwest of the disputed Paracel chain, which is claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan but controlled by China.

The announcement comes less than a week after a U.S. Navy warship sailed near the Paracels, drawing an angry rebuke from Beijing, which accused Washington of intentionally stirring tensions.

The U.S. operation Friday was the fourth “freedom of navigation” challenge in the past year to what Washington says are overreaching maritime claims by Beijing in the South China Sea.

That patrol reportedly sailed near Triton Island and Woody Island, the largest in the Paracels, and home to a key military airfield. Satellite images revealed in February that China had also deployed HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles to Woody Island.

China routinely holds drills in the waters, including a massive joint exercise with Russia last month. Experts, however, have pointed out that many of the announced military drills have taken place near the Paracels, which are closer to China and more firmly under its control than the hotly disputed Spratly chain more than 800 km south.

Beijing claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in annual trade passes. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all have rival claims.

In July, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected Beijing’s expansive claims to much of the strategic waters. Beijing blasted the ruling, calling it “waste paper.”