China and Russia are underscoring their military partnership, by holding a joint naval exercise in the South China Sea (SCS), following a ruling, by an international tribunal at The Hague, which did not go in Beijing’s favour.

The drill will “enhance the capabilities of the two navies to jointly deal with maritime security threats,” China’s Defence Ministry spokesman, Senior Colonel Yang Yujun, announced on Thursday

‘Growing strategic partnership’

Analysts say that the exercise is a confirmation of the growing strategic partnership between Beijing and Moscow. “The strategic relationship between the two countries is already an established reality” says Shen Dingli, Vice-Dean of the Institute of International Affairs at Shanghai’s Fudan University. In an e-mailed response to us, he said that the decision of the United States to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Air Defence (THAAD) missile system in South Korea, opposed by both China and Russia, has reinforced Beijing-Moscow ties.

The state-run Global Times points out that the maneuvers could be the result of joint statement signed by China and Russia in June this year. “On June 26, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a joint statement in Beijing which aims to reinforce global strategic stability. Experts believe that the military drill in the SCS in September is an action based on that statement.”

Military clout

Already the two countries are demonstrating their military clout, near, and far away from their coastlines. Last August, Russia and China carried out military exercises in the Peter the Great Gulf, south of the Russian Pacific city of Vladivostok. A few months earlier, they had conducted their first joint naval exercises in European waters in the Black Sea and Mediterranean.

 The upcoming show of strength by Moscow and Beijing follows the ruling by a tribunal, established by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), at the unilateral request of the Philippines. The panel rejected the legality of China’s claims to the nine-dash demarcation line, which encompasses most of the waters of the SCS.

China, on its part has trashed the ruling as “null and void”, by pointing out that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which was the reference point in the tribunal’s ruling, neither covers historical claims, nor territorial issues.

Speculation on size, site of exercise

Colonel Yang did not specify the size or location of the exercise in the SCS — whether it would be held close to the disputed Spratly islands or the Paracel archipelago — or not far from the Chinese naval base at Hainan island.

There is speculation in the Chinese media that the exercise could consider use of the disputed Woody island (Yonxing island as called by China) in the Paracel (Xisha) island chain, but not the Spratly islands, which have drawn sharper global attention.

“The Yongxing [Woody] Island airport in the Xisha [Paracel] Islands can be used for military aircraft, but others in the Nansha [Spratly] Islands are not ready yet,” said Song Zhongping, a Beijing-based military expert as quoted by the Global Times.

The exact dates of the exercises are also crucial as the Hangzhou summit of the G-20 countries are scheduled for September 4-6. “Chinese and Russian military forces will avoid the G20 Summit due to the sensitiveness of the timing,” says Shi Yinhong of the Renmin University in Beijing.

Source ; The Hindu