China said Monday that it is closing off a part of the South China Sea for military exercises this week, days after an international tribunal ruled against Beijing's claim to ownership of virtually the entire strategic waterway.
Hainan's maritime administration said an area southeast of the island province would be closed from Monday to Thursday, but gave no details about the nature of the exercises. The navy and Defense Ministry had no immediate comment.
The announcement came in the middle of a three-day visit to China by the U.S. Navy's top admiral to discuss the South China Sea dispute and ways to increase interactions between the two militaries.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson is meeting with China's navy commander, Adm. Wu Shengli, during his trip to Beijing and the port city of Qingdao that began on Sunday. He is also scheduled to visit the navy's submarine academy, tour china's first aircraft carrier and discuss ongoing Rim of the Pacific military drills.
China rejected last Tuesday's ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration in a case initiated by the Philippines and refused to take part in the arbitration. It has responded by asserting that islands in the South China Sea are "China's inherent territory," and says it could declare an air defense identification zone over the waters if it felt threatened.
The tribunal ruled that China violated international maritime law by building up artificial islands in the South China Sea that destroyed coral reefs, and by disrupting fishing and oil exploration.
Six governments claim territory in the South China Sea, although the area where the Chinese naval exercises are being held is not considered a particular hotspot. China's navy and coast guard operate extensively throughout the South China Sea and regularly stage live firing exercises in the area.
Source: Associated Press