Beijing, Moscow to hold joint drills in South China Sea

China and Russia are underscoring their military partnership by holding a joint naval exercise in the South China Sea (SCS), following a ruling by an international tribunal at The Hague, which did not go in Beijing’s favour.

The drill will “enhance the capabilities of the two navies to jointly deal with maritime security threats”, China’s Defence Ministry spokesman, Senior Colonel Yang Yujun, announced on Thursday. Some analysts say the exercise is a confirmation of the growing strategic partnership between Beijing and Moscow. “The strategic relationship between the two countries is already an established reality,” says Shen Dingli, Vice-Dean of the Institute of International Affairs at Shanghai’s Fudan University.

U.S. factor

In an e-mailed response to The Hindu , he said the decision of the U.S. to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Air Defence (THAAD) missile system in South Korea, opposed by both China and Russia, has reinforced Beijing-Moscow ties. The state-run Global Times points out that the manoeuvres could be the result of joint statement signed by China and Russia in June this year. “On June 26, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a joint statement in Beijing which aims to reinforce global strategic stability. Experts believe that the military drill in the South China Sea in September is an action based on that statement.”

Already the two countries are demonstrating their military clout. Last August, Russia and China carried out military exercises in the Peter the Great Gulf, south of the Russian Pacific city of Vladivostok. A few months earlier, they had conducted their first joint naval exercises in European waters in the Black Sea and Mediterranean. The upcoming show of strength by Moscow and Beijing follows the ruling by a tribunal, established by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), at the unilateral request of the Philippines.

The panel rejected the legality of China’s claims to the nine-dash demarcation line, which encompasses most of the waters of the SCS. China, on its part has trashed the ruling as “null and void”.

Colonel Yang did not specify the size or location of the exercise in the SCS. There is speculation in the Chinese media that the exercise could consider use of the disputed Woody island (Yonxing island as called by China) in the Paracel (Xisha) island chain, but not the Spratly islands, which have drawn sharper global attention.