China today closed a part of the South China Sea for military manoeuvres as it moved quickly to assert control over the disputed waters after an international tribunal struck down its claims over the region.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force has conducted a combat air patrol with long range bombers in the South China Sea recently, which will become “a regular practice” in the future, a military spokesperson said.
The PLA sent H-6K long range strategic bombers and other aircraft including fighters, scouts and tankers to patrol islands and reefs including Huangyan Dao, state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Shen Jinke, spokesman for the PLA Air Force as saying.
During the mission, the aircraft carried out tasks including aerial scouting, air combat and island and reef patrol, fulfilling the patrol’s objective, Shen said.
The air force aims to promote real combat training over the sea, improve combat abilities against security threats and safeguard China’s sovereignty and security, he said.
“To effectively fulfil its mission, the air force will continue to conduct combat patrols on a regular basis in the South China Sea,” he said.
Shen pointed out that the South China Sea islands have been China’s territory since ancient times, and China’s rights and interests in relevant maritime areas should not be infringed upon.
“The PLA Air Force will firmly defend national sovereignty, security and maritime interests, safeguard regional peace and stability, and cope with various threats and challenges,” he said.
Separately the maritime administration in Hainan province, which overseas China’s expansive claims over the South China Sea said it is closing off a part of the sea for military exercises this week as China simultaneously moved on both air and the sea to establish firm control over the area which was awarded by the tribunal to the Philippines.
The maritime administration said that an area southeast of the island would be closed until July 12 without providing details about the nature of the military exercises.
Beijing’s moves followed after the tribunal appointed by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration last week quashed China’s claims of historic rights over the vast expanse of the South China
Sea and upheld the Philippines’ claims under the UN Convention on Law of Seas (UNCLOS).
China which boycotted the tribunal angrily rejected its verdict and said the award would not impact its claims over 90 per cent of the resource-rich sea.
Besides the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also firmly contest China’s claims in the region.