China, Russia to hold joint naval drill in South China Sea

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 5:37pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 11:11pm

China and Russia will hold joint naval exercises in the South China Sea in September, the defence ministry said on Thursday, after an international tribunal invalidated the Asian giant’s extensive claims in the area.

The drills will be carried out in the “relevant sea and air of the South China Sea”, defence ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said, adding that the exercise was “routine” and “does not target any third party”.

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The announcement comes after a tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that there was “no legal basis” to Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea, embodied in a “nine-dash line” dating from Chinese maps of the 1940s and extending almost to the coasts of other countries, which have competing claims.

China has built a series of artificial islands on rocks and reefs in the area hosting facilities capable of supporting military operations, widely seen as an attempt to bolster its control of the strategically vital waters.

The tribunal ruling infuriated Beijing and fuelled tensions with Washington, which has sent naval vessels close to Chinese-claimed outcrops in recent months to assert the principle of freedom of navigation.

Beijing rejected the judgement as “waste paper” and asserted its right to declare an air-defence identification zone controlling flights over the area.

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China and Russia have close military and diplomatic ties, often in opposition to the West, particularly the United States, and leaders Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin enjoy a tight relationship.

The two sides hold joint drills regularly. Last August, the two countries carried out military exercises in the waters and airspace of the Peter the Great Gulf, south of the Russian Pacific city of Vladivostok, involving 22 vessels, up to 20 aircraft and more than 500 marines.

In May last year, they conducted their first joint naval exercises in European waters in the Black Sea and Mediterranean, China’s farthest-ever drills from its home waters.

Xi and Putin meet frequently and their countries, both permanent members of the UN Security Council, often take similar stances there on divisive issues such as the conflict in Syria.