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China holds another round of naval drills in South China Sea

BEIJING - A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbours in multiple territorial disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons. The waters are a major shipping route for global commerce and are rich in fish and possible oil and gas reserves.

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CHINA HOLDING NEW MILITARY DRILLS

China is holding another round of military drills in the South China Sea amid an uptick in such activity in the area highlighting growing tensions.

The Maritime Safety Administration said the exercises would run from Monday through Sunday. It warned outside vessels to steer 5 nautical miles (9.26 kilometres) clear of the drill area but otherwise gave no details.

China announced late last month that it had held drills in the South China Sea involving long-range bombers and other aircraft.

Chinese forces have also confronted U.S. Naval vessels conducting “freedom of navigation operations” near Chinese-held islands, as well as forces from Australia and countries that challenge China’s claim to the entire strategic waterway.

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CHINA SEEKS RENEWED ASEAN SUPPORT

China reportedly called together diplomats from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations last month to seek their backing after a new diplomatic challenge from the U.S.

It’s not clear if the meeting, reported Monday by Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper, yielded any immediate gains as talks between China and ASEAN remain in limbo.

The meeting in Beijing was called three weeks after the U.S. rejected nearly all of Beijing’s South China Sea claims and in effect sided with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei in each of their territorial spats with Beijing. China responded by saying the U.S. was trying to sow discord and was meddling in an Asian dispute to flex its muscles and incite a confrontation.

According to the newspaper report, during the meeting in Beijing in early August, a Chinese official expressed concern about the risk from military activities by “non-regional countries,” a term Beijing uses to refer to the U.S. as well as its allies Japan and Australia.

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PHILIPPINES PROTESTS EQUIPMENT SEIZURE

The Philippine government filed a diplomatic protest after Chinese forces seized fishing equipment set up by Filipinos in disputed Scarborough Shoal.

China seized the shoal after a tense sea standoff in 2012, and the Philippines brought its disputes to international arbitration the following year. The tribunal in 2016 invalidated China’s claims to virtually the entire South China Sea, but Beijing continues to ignore and defy the decision.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said in a statement Thursday that the Philippines “also resolutely objected” to China continuing to issue radio challenges to Philippine aircraft patrolling over the disputed waters.

A Chinese government spokesperson responded Friday that its coast guard was enforcing the law in Chinese waters, and that the Philippine aircraft had harmed China’s sovereignty and threatened its security.
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