China’s People’s Liberation Army-Navy has been carrying out live-fire naval exercises in the South China Sea days before an international court is expected to hand down a verdict on maritime entitlements in a case brought against China by the Philippines in 2013.
Last week, the exercises were announced by the Maritime Safety Administration of China’s Hainan Province, which also delineated a no-sail zone, prohibiting navigation within a proscribed area of around 106,000 square mails during the exercises.
The exercises are notably taking place in an area off the Paracel Islands, which Taiwan and Vietnam claim in addition to China.
According to Chinese state-owned media, the “Chinese navy conducted a combat drill in waters adjacent to south China’s Hainan Island and Xisha Islands on Friday,” using the Chinese name for the Paracel Islands.
“The Nanhai Fleet, as well as some forces of the Beihai Fleet and Donghai Fleet, took part in the navy’s annual routine military exercise that covered all sorts of combat platforms, including the air arm, submarine, surface vessel and coastal defense force,” the report added.
“The drill focused on air control operations, sea battles and anti-submarine warfare.”
Beijing has not held live-fire military exercises in the Spratly Islands, where the status of its occupied features have been under review by the international tribunal.
The Philippines, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia all have claims in the Spratly Islands. (The six states together comprise all of the claimant states in the South China Sea disputes.)
China has long rejected the validity of the Philippines-initiated arbitration, which is being adjudicated by a panel of five judges constituted under the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
Beijing has said that the tribunal’s ruling is likely to “increase tension and undermine peace in the region.”
“The arbitration was unilaterally initiated by the Aquino administration and distorts the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), challenges the dignity of the international law and undermines the rule of law in essence,” said Hong Lei, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Hong clarified that “China will never change its stance.”
In addition to rejecting the validity of the arbitration case, China has charged the United States, which has been staging regular freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea since last October, with militarizing the South China Sea.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration will award its verdict on Tuesday, July 12, 2016.