China and Russia will hold an eight- day joint naval exercise from tomorrow in the contentious South China Sea, the first drill by any country in the contested waters since an international tribunal rejected Beijing's historic claims to the resource-rich sea.
The naval drills, the first by Russia and China in the South China Sea, will be held off southern China's Guangdong Province, and was reportedly not close to Beijing's nine-dash line which was struck down by the arbitration court in The Hague in July in a case brought by the Philippines over Beijing's maritime claims there.
The drills were "routine" and not directed at any other countries, Chinese Navy said in a statement today. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan alongwith the Philippines, contest China's claims over the South China Sea.
Its historic claims, incorporated in the contested "nine dash-line", were struck down by the arbitration court which also upheld Philippines's claims to the sections of the sea close to its coast.
Trade worth more than USD 5 trillion passes through the strategic South China Sea annually.
The US and Japan have said that the tribunal's verdict is legally binding but China's claims got a fillip when Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his backing to Beijing's stand this month while attending the G20 summit in Hangzhou.
"We stand in solidarity and support of China's position on this issue – not to recognise the decision of this court. This is not a political position, but purely legal," Putin has said.
He, however, said the dispute should be resolved peacefully by the parties concerned.
The naval drill, which was announced in July, will feature Navy surface ships, submarines, fixed-wing aircraft, ship- borne helicopters marine corps and amphibious armoured equipment from both navies, Chinese navy spokesperson Liang Yang said.
Most of the Chinese participants will come from the Nanhai (South China Sea) Fleet under the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), he said.
Together, Chinese and Russian participants will undertake defence, rescue, and anti-submarine operations, in addition to joint island seizing and other activities, Liang said.
The drill, from September 12-19, is part of an annual event, which aims to consolidate and advance the Sino-Russian comprehensive strategic partnership, he said.
The annual China-Russia joint naval exercise is the fifth of its kind between the two countries since 2012.
The drills were held in 2012 in the Yellow Sea; off the coast of Russia's Far East in 2013; and in the East China Sea in 2014.
In 2015, the drill was conducted in two phases: in the Mediterranean in May and then in the Peter the Great Gulf, the waters off the Clerk Cape, and the Sea of Japan in late August.