Less than a week after a Hague tribunal found that China has no territorial rights in the South China Sea, contrary to Beijing's "Nine Dash Line" claims, China has made it abundantly clear that it will no comply with the ruling when overnight a senior Chinese admiral said that Freedom of navigation patrols carried out by foreign navies in the South China Sea could end "in disaster" while also announcing the unexpected start of navy drills in the contested waters, in the most direct warning to the United States yet.
According to AP, Hainan's maritime administration said an area southeast of the island province would be closed from Monday to Thursday, but gave no details about the nature of the exercises. 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 a tense relationship.
Further provoking a US response, 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 half finished. Furthermore, despite the meeting between the US and Chinese militaries, Sun Jianguo, an admiral and deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of China’s Central Military Commission, said behind closed doors on Saturday that freedom of navigation patrols by foreign navies in the South China Sea could end “in disaster,” according to Reuters.
“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,” Sun added.
“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.
He said the court case at The Hague must be used by China's armed forces to improve its capabilities "so that when push comes to shove, the military can play a decisive role in the last moment to defend our national sovereignty and interests".
With tensions in the South China Sea already riding high, the comments are seen as the loudest warning to the US, which has conducted such patrols close to 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.
In a further development, Chinese air force spokesman Shen Jinke was quoted by state media as saying that air force fighters and bombers had recently conducted patrols over the South China Sea and would make that "a regular practice" in future.
Despite the warnings, China and the United States have been maintaining open lines of communication, with U.S. Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson meeting the head of the Chinese navy, Wu Shengli, in Beijing on Monday. "I think that you can visit China this time at our invitation, that shows both sides attach great concern to maritime security," Wu told Richardson in brief comments in front of reporters.
Victor Gao, director of the China National Association of International Studies, told RT that he believes the US was “very much involved in this arbitration case brought by the Philippines...trying to put pressure on China.”
“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,” he said.
Separately, in yet another act of defiance to the trbunal verdict, China landed two civilian aircraft 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.
The small glimmer of good news is that according to the latest US Naval map update, where there were two US aircraft carriers in the South China Sea, now there is just one, as the John Stennis - after hosting Joe Biden on July 14 while the ship and John C. Stennis Strike Group (JCSSG) were participating in the Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise - appears to be quietly leaving the area.