Amid rising tensions with the Obama administration and its neighbors across East Asia, China will hold a week of naval drills with Russia in the South China Sea next month, the two countries said Monday.
Vladimir Matveyev, spokesman for the Russian navy’s Pacific fleet, said the previously announced joint drills will be held over eight days starting Sept. 12 and will focus on protecting merchant ships in the heavily-trafficked waterway. The two navies will also engage in mock island landings, according to a report Monday in the TASS news agency.
The exercises come as Beijing had become increasingly assertive in its broad claims to sovereignty to the waters off its coastline, parts of which are also claimed by Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries in the region. Chinese state media reacted angrily last month when an international arbitration board in The Hague sided with Manila in a bilateral dispute over key strategic island outposts in the sea.
Russia and China have conducted joint naval drills before, but this would be the first in the region since the unfavorable decision was handed down July 12.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun insisted last month when plans for the South China Sea exercises were first announced that they were not targeting any third party, but added the drills would “enhance the capacities of the two navies to jointly respond to maritime security threats.”
The Obama administration has challenged China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, and the U.S. Navy has sent ships through disputed waterways to underscore the right to freedom of navigation in recent months.
China’s coast guard on Monday also conducted live-firing exercises Monday in the Gulf of Tonkin, the body of water that has been the source of sharp territorial disputes with Vietnam.