China prepares for showdown, to close part of South China Sea for military exercise

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China said on Monday that it is closing off a part of the South China Sea for military exercises this week, days after an international tribunal ruled against Beijing’s claim to ownership of virtually the entire strategic waterway. An area off the east coast of China’s island province of Hainan will host military exercises from Tuesday to Thursday, China’s maritime administration said on its website, adding that entrance was “prohibited”. The area of sea identified is some distance from the Paracel islands and even further from the Spratlys, with both chains claimed by Beijing and several other neighbouring states. The announcement came in the middle of a three-day visit to China by the US Navy’s top admiral to discuss the South China Sea dispute and ways to increase interactions between the two militaries.
Chief of naval operations Admiral John Richardson is meeting with China’s navy commander, Admiral Wu Shengli, during his trip to Beijing and the port city of Qingdao that began on Sunday. He is also scheduled to visit the navy’s submarine academy, tour china’s first aircraft carrier and discuss ongoing Rim of the Pacific military drills. China rejected last Tuesday’s ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration in a case initiated by the Philippines, and refused to take part in the arbitration. It has responded by asserting that islands in the South China Sea are “China’s inherent territory,” and says it could declare an air defense identification zone over the waters if it felt threatened. In a further show of defiance, Beijing followed the ruling by landing two civilian aircraft on new airstrips on disputed Mischief and Subi reefs and dispatched its coast guard to block a Philippine fishing boat from reaching a contested shoal.

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