The Chinese missile frigate Yuncheng launches an anti-ship missile during a military exercise in the waters near south China’s Hainan Island and Paracel Islands in a file photo. Image: Xinhua

China will stage a five-day military training exercise in the South China Sea off southeast Hainan province beginning on August 6, large-scale maneuvers that will provocatively coincide with nearby US-led exercises in the contested maritime region.

According to a China Maritime Safety Administration notice released on Wednesday, China will prohibit ships from entering a restricted area between the Paracel Islands and Hainan island province from early on August 6 to the end of August 10.

Meanwhile, the US Indo-Pacific Command said on August 2 it would conduct the LSGE21 with the United Kingdom’s armed forces, Australian Defense Force and Japan Self-Defense Force. It said the US would train with allies and partners to improve interoperability, trust, and shared understanding to better address security challenges impacting all nations.

“We view with concern China’s unlawful claim to the entire South China Sea directly and negatively impacting all of the countries in the region, from their livelihood, whether it be with fishing or access to natural resources,” John Aquilino, commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, said during a presentation at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on August 4. 

The US commander added that he was concerned by China’s suppression of Hong Kong and human rights issues in Xinjiang, as well as China’s military actions at the border of India. “Those are the things that lead me to believe that our execution of integrated deterrence has to occur now and with a sense of urgency,” Aquilino said.

Global Times published an editorial warning the UK Carrier Strike Group, led by HMS Queen Elizabeth, not to carry out any “improper acts” when passing through the South China Sea. Photo: AFP / Ben Stansall

On Tuesday, the US Navy said it had started the Large-Scale Exercise (LSE) 2021.

“We have shifted focus from the individual Carrier Strike Group (CSG) to a larger fleet-centric approach, challenging fleet commanders’ abilities to make decisions at a speed and accuracy that outpaces the adversaries,” Christopher Grady, commander of the US Fleet Forces Command, said.

“LSE is more than just training; it is leveraging the integrated fighting power of multiple naval forces to share sensors, weapons, and platforms across all domains in contested environments, globally.”

In the US, a CSG normally consists of one aircraft carrier, one guided-missile cruiser for air defense, two warships for anti-submarine and surface warfare and one to two anti-submarine destroyers. A naval fleet refers to a large formation of warships controlled by one leader.

‘Black hands’

On Wednesday evening, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a speech at the 11th East Asia Summit (EAS) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting that “foreign powers” must stop extending “black hands” in South China Sea issues and show “four respects” respect historic truth, international law, countries in the region and their agreements.

Wang said the historic truth was that China was the first to have discovered, named and explored and exploited the South China Sea Islands and relevant waters while the country had reclaimed sovereignty of the islands from Japan after World War II.

He said according to international law, China had corresponding maritime rights and interests over the Nansha Islands. He added that China and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries had agreed to settle disputes peacefully through consultations and negotiations under the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China was the first to have discovered the South China Sea Islands Photo: AFP / Anadolu Agency

“Some forces outside the region deployed a lot of advanced carriers and aircrafts to South China Sea and try to lure more external countries to come to the region and show their muscles,” Wang said.

“China and ASEAN countries should have a clear mind against the bad intentions of these foreign forces and say no to behaviors that could hurt the peace, stability and countries’ unity in the region.”

On July 29, Global Times, a communist party mouthpiece, published an editorial to warn the UK’s Carrier Strike Group, led by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, not to carry out any “improper acts” when passing through the South China Sea.

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, said the Chinese army would open fire if UK warships entered the 12 nautical miles surrounding Chinese claimed islands and reefs in the region. In the end, the UK did not sail near the contested areas.

On Monday (August 2), the German Navy’s frigate, Bayern, set sail from the port of Wilhelmshaven for a seven-month-long journey across a dozen ports in the Indo-Pacific that will likewise traverse the South China Sea.

“China has no objection to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. As long as European warships pass through the South China Seas normally in accordance with international law, they will not create a conflict with China,” Hu said in his latest video.

“We strongly hope that the commanders of those warships have the strategic awareness of maintaining their country’s relations with China and will not take willful actions in the South China Sea.

“China is not afraid of provocateurs. Neither Britain nor Germany has the power to fight China in the South China Sea. I believe they are very clear on this,” Hu added.

The chance of a direct military conflict between China and the West is still remote in the short term, military experts say.

Military expert Shi Shan said on his YouTube channel that the PLA would not deploy troops and warships to the restricted area in the South China Sea as it usually took several months to prepare for such kinds of large-scale drills. Shi said the PLA might launch some missiles in the area during the five-day exercises, but only to give a warning to the US, UK, Australia and Japan.

In August 2020, China launched four missiles from Qinghai and Zhejiang at a designated target in the South China Sea. However, two of the missiles reportedly missed the target with one falling down in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Read: Hypothetical views on a US-China conflict