South China Sea news: China moves military troops and vessels to contested region

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The news was confirmed days after the Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest over what it said was China’s illegal confiscation of equipment at Scarborough Shoal, an uninhabited island identified by Tobias Ellwood MP last month as a potential flashpoint. The state-run Chinese newspaper People’s Daily cited an announcement by the Hainan Maritime Safety Administration on Friday revealing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will stage the war-games in waters southeast off Hainan Island from today until Saturday.

Additionally, the Shandong Maritime Safety Administration also posted a notice on Thursday confirming the PLA would be con large-scale military drills in the Yellow Sea, which separates China from the Korean peninsula, until Wednesday.

The Philippine foreign ministry said the incident occurred three months ago at Scarborough Shoal.

The ministry offered no additional details in a statement issued on Thursday, but it also protested China’s “continuing illicit issuances of radio challenges to Philippine aircraft conducting legitimate regular maritime patrols.”

China’s coast guard frequently warns foreign planes and vessels passing through and over international waters, while the US regularly sends ships through on freedom of movement exercises.

The Philippine protest comes against a backdrop of mounting concern at what the US and its allies, see as provocative Chinese activities and military exercises in contested parts of the strategic waterway.

Mr Ellwood told China’s strategy in militarising islands in the South China was to “surround” Taiwan and cut it off from the rest of the world.

He added: “Scarborough Shoal is closer to the Philippines than it is to China.

“In fact, it is arguably closer to Malaysia as well so both of them could rightly claim it before China and yet you have got these activities going on.”

Vietnam on Thursday complained about the presence of Chinese bombers on the Paracel Islands.

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China claims historic ownership of most of the South China Sea using old maps which it says are proof of sovereignty.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims.

China’s foreign ministry subsequently insisted its coast guard was enforcing the law in what were Chinese waters.

The Scarborough Shoal is located within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone and an arbitral tribunal in The Hague ruled in 2016 that China’s claim to it – and to most of the South China Sea – had no basis under international law.

Nevertheless, speaking to reporters at the start of this month, Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang said: “China has indisputable sovereignty over South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters, which has a full historical and legal basis.

“At present, with the joint efforts of China and Asian countries, the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable, and positive progress has been made in relevant consultations.”

In reference the US military exercises in the South China Sea, he added: “China urges the US to stop making false remarks, stop taking provocative military actions, and stop sowing discord among countries in the region.

“The attempts made by the US concerning the South China Sea can only make China more firmly defend its own sovereignty and security, and to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.

“Ignoring historical and objective facts on the South China Sea issue, the US side has flagrantly violated its own commitment to not taking a side on the sovereignty claims of the South China Sea, wilfully and groundlessly criticised China, sowed discord among countries in the region and even conducted dual-carrier operations in the South China Sea.”

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