China plans South China Sea military drills ahead of court ruling

China’s military plans exercises in the disputed South China Sea this week, adding to tensions ahead of an international tribunal’s ruling that is expected to challenge Beijing’s maritime claims in the area.

The drills, announced in a brief online statement Sunday, are scheduled to stretch over seven days starting Tuesday and ending July 11, the day before the United Nations-backed tribunal in The Hague is expected to issue its ruling. Beijing has repeatedly said it will ignore the verdict despite pressure from the U.S. and its allies to comply.

U.S. Navy ships have conducted exercises around the South China Sea in recent weeks and on Friday the Navy said an aircraft-carrier strike group was operating in the sea, without saying precisely where or how long it would stay. U.S. officials have warned that Beijing could respond to the ruling by expanding its recent island-building or declaring an air-defense zone in the area.

China’s Maritime Safety Administration, in announcing the exercises, gave geographic coordinates for the drills in an area running east of China’s Hainan Island down to and including the Paracel Islands.

“Entering prohibited,” it said in English. The Paracels are controlled by China but also claimed by Vietnam, where government officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Chinese defense ministry officials couldn’t be reached for comment Sunday. In a speech on Friday to mark the 95th anniversary of the Communist Party’s founding, President Xi Jinping said that China would never compromise on its sovereignty and was “not afraid of trouble.”

China normally issues public notices in advance of military exercises, which it conducts regularly in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

The timing and location of these latest drills seem particularly provocative. They coincide with U.S.-led joint naval exercises off Hawaii which Chinese navy ships are joining for the second time as part of efforts to improve military relations.

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