China will conduct military drills in the contested South China Sea this week over a massive area of water that’s larger than the U.S. state of Maine.
In a brief online statement (link in Chinese) issued over the weekend, Beijing said the exercises will run from today (July 5) until July 11, finishing one day before a UN-backed tribunal issues a ruling on China’s sweeping territorial claims. China has long said it will ignore the ruling, and it refused to participate in the case, which began in 2013.
The statement gave precise geographic coordinates of the drills, which will cover an area running east of China’s Hainan Island down to and including the Paracel Islands, which are controlled by China but also claimed by Vietnam. The latter’s foreign ministry protested against the drills yesterday (July 4).
No other ships would be allowed in the area, Beijing said, which has a perimeter of just over 1,300 sq km, and encompasses a little over 100,000 sq km (38,610 sq miles).
The US state of Kentucky is about 40,000 square miles, in comparison, and the state of Maine is 35,000. The largest island in the Philippines, Luzon, home to some 48 million people, is about 110,000 sq km.
The area where China is conducting drills is near, but not in the center of, the high-traffic shipping lanes that carry some $5 trillion a year in trade through the area.
Ship traffic in the area where the drill will be held, at 2:34pm in Hong Kong on July 4.(marinetraffic.com)
Some Chinese netizens seemed to be thrilled about the military action, deeming it a good time to show the power of China, while others expressed concern in comments posted on Sina News Weibo and FT Chinese (links in Chinese).
The starting date is “the Independence Day of the United States. And the ending day of the military action would be July 11th, next to which would be the day of the international court ruling result. The timing is so delicate,” commentator “Dr_Wei” wrote.