China said Monday it is closing off a part of the South China Sea for military exercises this week, days after the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against Beijing’s claim to ownership of virtually the entire strategic waterway.
The maritime administration of Hainan said that 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 navy and Defense Ministry had no immediate comment.
China rejected the tribunal’s ruling in the 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.
The tribunal ruled that China violated international maritime law by building up artificial islands that destroyed coral reefs and by disrupting fishing and oil exploration.
Six governments in all claim territory in the South China Sea, although the area where the exercises are being held is not considered a particular hotspot. China’s navy and coast guard operate extensively throughout the South China Sea and regularly stage live firing exercises in the area.
China’s island development has inflamed regional tensions, with many fearing that Beijing will use the construction of new islands complete with airfields and military facilities to extend its military reach and perhaps try to restrict navigation.
Several times in the past year, US warships have deliberately sailed close to one of those islands to exercise freedom of navigation and challenge the claims. In response, China has deployed fighter jets and ships to track and warn off the American ships, and accused the US of threatening its national security.