China conducts ‘combat patrols’ in disputed South China Sea amid joint military exercises by US, Japan, Australia, Philippines


Beijing: China has carried out military “combat patrols” in the disputed South China Sea, amid the US’ first joint military exercises with the Philippines, Japan and Australia, Al Jazeera reported. China announced a naval drill on Sunday after defence chiefs from four nations said the Philippines will host joint drills in the same area on the same day.

Beijing’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theater Command announced it was organising “joint naval and air combat patrols in the South China Sea”. In an apparent swipe at the US-led drills, Beijing’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theater Commander said, “All military activities that mess up the situation in the South China Sea and create hotspots are under control,” Al Jazeera reported.

The Chinese army did not reveal further details about its activities in the disputed South China Sea on Sunday. The exercise between the four nations took place days ahead of US President Joe Biden’s first trilateral summit with the leaders of Japan and the Philippines.

Top US officials have repeatedly expressed their “ironclad” commitment to defending the Philippines against an armed attack in the South China Sea, according to Al Jazeera report. China claims jurisdiction over almost all of the South China Sea and has become increasingly assertive in the region in recent years.

A court in Hague in its 2016 ruling said that Beijing’s claim was without basis. However, China has ignored the ruling and claims made by the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations. On Saturday, China’s coastguard made accusations against the Philippines. China’s coastguard said it had “handled” a situation at Iroquois Reef on Thursday, claiming several ships from the Philippines were involved in “illegal” operations.

Chinese coastguard spokesperson Gan Yu said, “Under the guise of ‘protecting fishing’, Philippine government ships have illegally violated and provoked, organised media to deliberately incite and mislead, continuing to undermine stability in the South China Sea.”

Gan said, “We are telling the Philippines that any infringement tactics are in vain,” adding that China will “regularly enforce the law in waters under [its] jurisdiction,” the report said. Iroquois Reef lies about 237 kilometres from the Philippines’ island of Palawan, and within its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as defined under international law. Philippine coastguard spokesman Jay Tarriela accused China of carrying out “illegal enforcement operations,” according to Al Jazeera report.

In a joint statement, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the joint drills, hosted by the Philippines on Sunday, are intended to “[ensure] that all countries are free to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.”

According to the joint statement, the drills named the “Maritime Cooperative Activity” will include naval and air force units from all four countries.” Reports said the exercises will include anti-submarine warfare training to safeguard “the rule of law that is the foundation for a peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific region.”

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