China warns foreign navy patrols could end in ‘disaster’

China has announced that it is closing off part of the South China Sea for military exercises this week, and warned that the freedom of navigation patrols by the foreign navies could end “in disaster,” Russia Today channel reported.

Hainan province’s maritime administration said that an area southeast of the island province would be closed from Monday to Thursday, but ‘failed’ to give any details about the nature of the exercises, an American news agency reported.

The navy and the defence ministry gave no immediate comment. The announcement came during a three-day visit to China by US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson to discuss the South China Sea dispute and ways to increase interaction between the two militaries, which continue to have tense ties.

On Monday, Beijing also stated that it would not halt the construction on islands and reefs in the South China Sea, state news agency Xinhua reported the head of the country’s navy as saying, adding that China will not leave the outcropping that is under construction and half finished.

However, despite the meeting between the US and the Chinese militaries, admiral and deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of China’s Central Military Commission Sun Jianguo said behind the closed doors on Saturday that freedom of navigation patrols by the foreign navies in the South China Sea could end “in disaster,” Reuters reported him as saying on Monday.

“When has freedom of navigation in the South China Sea ever been affected? It has not, whether in the past or now, and in the future there won’t be a problem as long as nobody plays tricks,” Sun said. “But China consistently opposes so-called military freedom of navigation which brings with it a military threat, and which challenges and disrespects the international law of the sea.”

“This kind of military freedom of navigation is damaging to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and it could even play out in a disastrous way,” he said, without elaborating. The comments are seen as a warning to the US, which has conducted such patrols close to the Chinese-held islands over the past year. Those patrols prompted Beijing to send fighter jets and ships to track and warn off the American ships, while accusing the US of threatening its national security.

China National Association of International Studies Director Victor Gao said that he believed that the US was “very much involved in this arbitration case brought by the Philippines…trying to put pressure on China.” He said, “China will stand firm on the matter of principle and China will also use all military resources to make sure that the US will not win this battle against China.”

China’s statements came after a ruling by an arbitration court in The Hague said last week that China’s claims to almost all of the South China Sea are invalid. The court also ruled that Beijing had breached Philippine’s sovereignty by endangering its ships, fishing, and oil projects in the disputed sea.

Beijing responded by reiterating that the islands in the South China Sea are “China’s inherent territory,” adding that it could declare an air defence identification zone over the waters if it felt threatened. In an apparent act of defiance to the verdict, China landed two civilian aircrafts on new airstrips on the disputed Mischief and Subi reefs and dispatched its coast guard to block a Philippine fishing boat from reaching a contested shoal.

Beijing lays claim to almost all of the South China Sea, despite conflicting partial claims of Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and the Philippines. China has also reportedly built military installations on reclaimed islands, including runways and missile launchers.

Source: Daily Times