China starts military drills in disputed Paracel Islands ahead of International Tribunal’ verdict
 Source : Agencies  Date : 06-Jul-2016

Beijing, July 6: Just before few days of the landmark court decision over sovereignty claims in the disputed South China Sea, China kicked off a week of military drills around the Paracel Islands. China's maritime safety administration said, the naval drills would last till next Monday, one day before the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague is slated to reach a ruling in Beijing’s dispute with the Philippines.
Paracel Islands are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan. At least two guided missile destroyers, the Shenyang and Ningbo, and one missile frigate, the Chaozhou, were reported to be among the vessels being deployed to the region, where China has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

A ruling on a complaint issued in 2013 by the Philippines, which, along with China, claims both the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, is expected July 12 at the International Court of Arbitration at the Hague. The exercises, inside a 100,000 square kilometre zone around the disputed Paracel Islands, come ahead of a ruling next week by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague over a long-standing territorial dispute between the Philippines and China.

The Philippine position is that even if the Spratlys were China’s rightful dominion, the latter should only be allowed control of waters in a 12-mile radius. China, in turn, argues that it should get a 200-sq. mi. exclusive economic zone. However, Philippines says that in either case the total territory would be far less than what China currently claims under the scope of the nine-dash line.

Authorities in China have repeatedly questioned the legality of the ruling by the tribunal, which is widely believed will rule in favor of the Philippines next Tuesday and may deprive China of any legal basis for its claims over almost the entire South China Sea, or the so-called Nine Dash Line.

China claims sovereignty over huge swaths of the resource-rich South China Sea, within what it calls the ‘nine-dash line’, but next week’s ruling may call into question the legal legitimacy of those claims. “The South China Sea arbitration case initiated by the Philippine President Aquino administration is illegal, null and void from the outset. China will never accept nor recognize whatever ruling the arbitral tribunal may produce. And China does not accept any proposal or action by any country based on the ruling”, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei said on Wednesday.
During first second week of June, India, Japan and the US had executed Malabar Exercise, near Okinawa Island which about 400 kilometres from the contested Senkaku Islands. The exercise, the annually held Malabar, had recently expanded from a bilateral comprising India and US to a trilateral exercise to include Japan. Over 100 assets - warships, fighters and surveillance aircrafts - participated in this year's Malabar, indicating the size and intent of the exercise.

China's aggressive stand in the East and South China Sea has raised concern globally. While the US has carried out Freedom of Navigation (FoN) exercises in the area directly challenging China's claims, India and several other countries have raised the issue of freedom of navigation through oceans to counter China.