China’s maritime safety administration announced China’s military's plans exercises in the disputed South China Sea this week, adding to tensions ahead of an international tribunal’s ruling that is expected to challenge Beijing’s maritime claims in the area.
The naval drills, which will cover the area east of China’s Hainan Island all the way to and including the Paracels, will be held on July 5-11, Reuters reports, citing a brief statement published online.
The drills will be ending July 11, the day before the United Nations-backed tribunal in The Hague is expected to issue its ruling.
China has repeatedly said it will ignore the verdict despite pressure from the U.S. and its allies to comply.
The Hong Kong Economic Times reported that warships from the three fleets of the Chinese navy were spotted at the Sanya military port, Hainan.
The warships allegedly included the guided missile destroyer Shenyang under the North China Sea Fleet, the guided missile destroyer Ningbo and the missile frigate Chaozhou under the East China Sea Fleet.
Over the last years, China has engaged in unprecedented construction of artificial islands and infrastructure on the reefs of the Paracels, preparing a base for its military, a harbor for ships, and even building a full-fledged flight landing strip on Woody Island.
U.S. Navy ships have conducted exercises around the South China Sea in recent weeks and on Friday the Navy said an aircraft-carrier strike group was operating in the sea, without saying precisely where or how long it would stay, says a report in WSJ.
U.S. officials have warned that Beijing could respond to the ruling by expanding its recent island-building or declaring an air-defense zone in the area.