China will hold military exercises this week in the South China Sea, days ahead of the long-awaited UN maritime court ruling. Chinese analysts claim that the drills are meant for peacekeeping in the region while international observers believe China intends to flex its military muscles to show its defiance of the upcoming UN arbitration.
On Sunday, The Maritime Safety Administration of China posted a notice on its official website, saying that military exercises will be held from July 5th to 11th. The agency said that during this period, all civilian vessels will be prohibited from entering an area that runs from the east of Hainan Island to Paracel Island.
An official from the Chinese Ministry of Defense told reporters that this is a routine exercise according to an annual plan. “The timing of the exercises in the South China Sea is subtle, but it’s not necessarily linked to the arbitration as the exercise is a routine activity that was planned long time ago,” the official said.
The Philippines brought the case to the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration last year, much to China’s displeasure. Last week, the court announced that its ruling will be issued on July 12th. Fearing that the arbitration won’t go its way, China is currently boycotting the decision and questioning the court’s jurisdiction. The official news agency Xinhua slammed the validity of the arbitration and called the court “a law-abusing tribunal”.
State media has brought forward a number of “experts” to defend China’s actions in the South China Sea. For months, China has been scouring the globe for countries to back its claim — Hello, Gambia! Recently, Xinhua News announced a new supporter in Vojtech Filip, vice speaker of the Parliament of the Czech Republic and leader of the Czech Communist Party, who said that the Philippines’ position is self-contradictory in the case.
The nine-dash line, the demarcation line that China uses to claim most of the South China Sea, is being scrutinized at the Hague-based international court. With the help of American lawyers and officials, the government of the Republic of China (ROC) initially came up with the concept of nine-dash line in 1947. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) subsequently inherited the ROC’s claim following the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Despite having made the claim public since 1947, China has never filed a formal and detailed claim to the area within the dashes. Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all currently lay competing claims to territory in the South China Sea.
While they are sailing warships around the disputed region, China has also reached out with an olive branch for the Philippines, reasoning that if Manila simply ignores the arbitration ruling next week, then negotiations can begin, China Daily reports.