Beijing conducts new naval maneuvers in South China Sea

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BEIJING: (Web Desk)- The Chinese navy has held fresh exercises in the South China Sea, which has been at the center of a long-running territorial dispute between Beijing and its neighbors.

In a statement on its website released on Saturday, the Chinese Ministry of Defense said ships from the country’s northern, eastern and southern fleets participated in Friday’s drills in waters adjacent to the Hainan and Xisha Islands.

The maneuvers focused on air control, surface operations and anti-submarine warfare, among other training exercises, the statement added.

The exercises came ahead of a ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration on a case, which was brought by the Philippines, disputing some of China’s territory claims in the South China Sea.

On Thursday, Abraham Denmark, US deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, called on both parties to comply with the ruling due on July 12.

However, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei reiterated on Friday Beijing’s opposition to the ruling.

“The arbitration was unilaterally initiated by the Aquino administration and distorts the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), challenges the dignity of the international law and undermines the rule of law in essence,” Hong said.

China’s Xinhua news agency also said in a commentary on Saturday that the country “adheres to the position of settling disputes through negotiation and consultation with states directly concerned,” adding, “This has always been China’s policy, and it will never change.”

Beijing claims nearly all of the strategically vital South China Sea which is also claimed in part by Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. The contested waters are believed to be rich in oil and gas.

China accuses the US of interfering in the regional issues and deliberately stirring up tensions in the South China Sea. Washington accuses Beijing of carrying out “a land reclamation program” in the disputed territory.

In recent weeks, US destroyers — Spruance, Momsen and Stethem — sailed close to Chinese-held reefs and islands in the South China Sea. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned US Secretary of State John Kerry that Washington should not do anything that would harm China’s “sovereignty and security interests.”

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