China plans military drills for South China Sea

The Hague is expected to rule on dispute with the Philippines over contested islands

in Beijing China is planning military drills in the disputed South China Sea, ahead of a landmark ruling by an international court on a challenge by the Philippines to its claims in the area, highlighting

growing tensions in the region.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected to rule on July 12th on an arbitration case submitted by the Philippines contesting China's claim to sovereignty over an area shown on its maps as inside a nine-dash line marking out a large expanse of the South China Sea, which Manila and many in the region contest.

At least €4.5 trillion in maritime trade passes through the South China Sea every year, and the area contains rich oil and gas reserves. As well as the Philippines, China is also at odds with Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei over its claims there.


Paracel Islands

The drills will be held in waters around the Paracel Islands, according to a statement by maritime authorities, giving strict coordinates and warning ships from entering the area. “The People’s Liberation Army will start military exercises in a designated area in the South China Sea from Tuesday to July 11th,” the statement said.

China has indicated it plans to ignore the court’s ruling, which would be seen as a snub of international legal codes. Beijing has stepped up its propaganda campaign ahead of the ruling and state media are full of lengthy articles arguing China’s position and slamming accusations that it is trying to bully its smaller neighbours.

Peaceful settlement

“As many experts have observed, China has all along stood for peaceful settlement of territorial disputes through negotiation. It has dealt with the South China Sea issue in a constructive way, and always kept the doors for dialogue open,” the official Xinhua news agency said.

However, the US claims that China is trying to militarise the South China Sea by building artificial islands near contested reefs. Beijing responds by attacking US naval patrols and exercises in Asia with allies such as South Korea and Vietnam.

“China has never bullied the smaller claimants on the South China Sea issue,” Xu Liping, a senior research fellow with the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was quoted as saying on Xinhua. “Instead, it turns to safeguarding its sovereignty through the international rules and relative laws.”

The newspaper said that Beijing was ready to start negotiations with the Philippines and its freshly inaugurated president, Rodrigo Duterte, but not if the discussions were based on the arbitration ruling however.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing