China to hold illegal military drills in South China Sea amid rising tensions

By Hong Hanh   August 5, 2019 | 03:16 am PT
China to hold illegal military drills in South China Sea amid rising tensions
Satellite photo dated March 28, 2018 shows Woody Island in the Paracels, South China Sea. Photo by Planet Labs Inc/Handout via Reuters.
Hainan Province's Maritime Safety Administration announced Monday its plan to hold military drills near Vietnam's Paracel Islands on August 6-7.

It said the first military training exercise will be held 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, August 6, and the second from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday. The exercise will be held in the vicinity of Vietnam’s Paracel (Hoang Sa) Islands in the East Sea, known internationally as the South China Sea.

The administration said on its website that all vessels are forbidden from entering the area when the drills are underway.

The military drills are being held even as the international community expresses concern over China's recent actions in the South China Sea.

In particular, China sent oil survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 and its escorts to the southern area of Vietnam’s waters near the Vanguard Bank in early July, infringing upon Vietnam's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

Vietnam's Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh voiced strong opposition to the Chinese operation at the recently held 52nd ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand. On the sidelines of the meeting, he told his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that Vietnam and China need to maintain peace, stability and control conflicts well, without adding tensions and resolve disputes with peaceful measures.

ASEAN foreign ministers and partners also stressed the importance of maintaining peace, stability, safety and freedom of navigation on the waterway, following international law and resolving issues through peaceful methods.

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, expressed the EU's concern about the increasing tension in the South China Sea at a press conference in Hanoi Monday.

"The EU always supports measures to ease tensions and the need to respect international laws, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)," she said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last Thursday added his voice to the international criticism, accusing China of coercing its Southeast Asian neighbors in disputes over the South China Sea. He urged regional allies to speak out against such actions.

Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang had said earlier that Vietnam has contacted China on multiple occasions via different channels, delivered diplomatic notes to oppose China's violations and demanded that China withdraw its infringing ships from Vietnamese waters.

Hang asserted that China has violated the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) in the South China Sea, complicated the situation in the waters and undermined negotiations on the South China Sea Code of Coduct between China and ASEAN.

She reiterated that Vietnam has full legal grounds and historical evidence to assert its sovereignty over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagoes in accordance with international law.

Experts have said China is trying to turn Vietnamese territory into a disputed area to advance its superpower plans, but that the actions could erode bilateral and regional trust and affect domestic opinion.

China seized the Paracel Islands from South Vietnam by force in 1974, and has been illegally occupying a number of reefs in the Spratly Islands since 1988.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, including waters close to Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Last June, China conducted a series of anti-ship ballistic missile tests in an area to the north of the Spratly  Islands from June 29 until July 3.

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