China, Russia Plan Joint Military Drills in South China Sea

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
July 28, 2016 Updated: July 28, 2016

BEIJING—China’s military said Thursday it will hold joint exercises with Russian forces in the South China Sea, following a recent arbitration ruling that rejected Beijing’s claim to almost the entire strategic body of water.

The air and sea drills will be held sometime in September and were aimed at deepening relations between the two militaries and boosting their capacity to respond to maritime threats, ministry spokesman Col. Yang Yujun said at a monthly news briefing.

Yang said the exercises weren’t targeted at any third parties. He didn’t disclose the specific location, and some areas of the South China Sea are not disputed.

Chinese ships have challenged vessels from the U.S., the Philippines and other nations in disputed waters, and China considers the tribunal’s ruling earlier this month to be invalid.

Russia and China have held numerous joint drills in recent years, united in a desire to stem American power in the Asia-Pacific region, despite their own lingering mistrust over territory and influence in Central Asia.

Russia has also spoken in support of China’s rejection of the move by the Philippines to bring the South China Sea case before the international arbitration body in the Hague, the Netherlands, and argued that countries without a direct claim to territory should stay impartial, in a reference to the U.S., which has called on China to accept the ruling as binding.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby urged China to be transparent about its military capabilities and intentions. He said military exercises by China and Russia should comply with international law.

“There’s no need for it to raise tensions. Exercises and operations are meant to hone capabilities,” Kirby told reporters in Washington. “It really depends on the way it is conducted. Our expectation is that these exercises and operations, like ours, will be conducted in accordance with international obligations and the law.”

In the wake of the tribunal ruling, China held live-firing exercises and said it would launch regular air patrols over the South China Sea while continuing with the construction of man-made islands equipped with harbors, airstrips and other infrastructure with military uses.

It has also launched a diplomatic campaign to denigrate the ruling that has so far persuaded other Southeast Asian countries that have similar disputes with it to back away. China kept any mention of the judgment from appearing in a joint communique from issued at the conclusion Tuesday of a meeting between it and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Six governments in all claim territory in the South China Sea. China says all disputes should be settled bilaterally through negotiations.