East Sea (South China Sea) News

China to start military drills around disputed Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands - What are its intentions?

China's Maritime Safety Administration on Sunday announced plans to carry out military drills around the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands in the East Sea (South China Sea), an area over which China claims its Vietnam-owned sovereignty. The announcement prohibits all shipping in the area for five days from July 1, according to the asia.nikkei.com.
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Liaoning aircraft carrier combat group during an drill. (Illustrated photo)

The China Maritime Safety Administration's website released "Qiong Air Police 0059" on June 27 to announce it-called Xisha Islands (Hoang Sa or Paracel Islands) conducted military drills at the following points from 00:00 am on July 1 to 24:00 pm on July 5, 2020.

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The announcement for drill time on Hainan Maritime Safety Administration of P.R.C

The drills are announced in details as follows:

A:17-16.12N/111-24.65E; B:18-02.19N/112-59.45E; C:16-58.63N/113-48.37E;

D:16-29.12N/113-44.93E; E:15-41.19N/112-38.17E; F:16-03.58N/111-26.69E.

It is forbidden for any ships to enter the area of the above-mentioned points, and to obey the guidance and command of the ship on the spot.


A:17-16.12N/111-24.65E; B:18-02.19N/112-59.45E; C:16-58.63N/113-48.37E;

D:16-29.12N/113-44.93E; E:15-41.19N/112-38.17E; F:16-03.58N/111-26.69E.


Chinese intentions when preparing major drills in the East Sea (South China Sea)

A large-scale drills, including the content of aircraft carrier drills landing on the islands in the East Sea (South China Sea) and regional waters, what does China want to show?

According to the source on the South China Morning Post on May 24 , the drills will also include the content of the Chinese aircraft carrier battle group passing the area of the Dong Sa archipelago and conduct drills in the southeastern area of Taiwan located in the Philippines maritime area.

Deterrence on multiple sides?

On May 25, responding to the Thanhnien on the above information, Assoc. Prof. Stephen Robert Nagy (International Christian University - Japan; scholar at Asia-Pacific Foundation in Canada) commented: “China's continued show strength through upcoming drills to show its three messages.”

Specifically, Professor Nagy pointed out: First, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused serious harm to the Chinese economy. Therefore, by showing strength in the East Sea (South China Sea), the Chinese government wants to prove the national strength that is still maintained to its people .

Second, it is undeniable that Taiwan's prestige has increased over time, especially when it is effective against the disease. Besides, Taipei has recently received more and more support from Washington. Therefore, the content of the amphibious drills could be seen as a Beijing's deterrent to send to Taipei a message that the plan to unify Taiwan by force still remained an option by China mainland.

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J-15 aircraft landed on the aircraft carrier Liaoning. (Photo on thanhnien)

Third, upcoming drills are also intended to send the message to Washington that despite the United States increasing its comprehensive pressure on China's actions in the East Sea, Beijing has not given up its ambition for the waters.

Besides, China is trying to assert its strength as the US and European countries are struggling to cope with the Covid-19 epidemic. In such a context, Vietnam and its neighbors need to be very vigilant against China, because Beijing can take advantage of the epidemic situation to have more disturbing actions in the East Sea, ”Associate Professor Nagy expressed his concerns.

China's drills on the East Sea: Forecast of complicated movements

On the same day, on May 25, answering the ThanhNien, Dr. Satoru Nagao (Hudson Research Institute, USA) analyzed: It is unclear in the upcoming summer drills, China will deploy aircraft carriers Liaoning or Shandong ships to take part in the drills. In terms of scale, the two carriers Liaoning and Shandong have a water displacement of 60,000 - 70,000 tons, much smaller than the US aircraft carrier with a water penetration of over 100,000 tons.

In terms of capability, Chinese aircraft carriers carry about 35 J-15 fighters and about 10 helicopters, which is less than half of US aircraft carriers' capabilities. In addition, the Chinese aircraft carrier lacks the launchers for the J-15 to take off with enough fuel and weapons carrying. Thus, compared to the US, Chinese aircraft carriers are not yet rivals.

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Shandong aircraft carrier has just ceremony of putting on operation, December 2019 REUTERS

However, the J-15 is a fourth generation fighter, so when compared to the air forces in Southeast Asia, the number of J-15s carried by Chinese carriers is almost equal to the amount of 4th generation fighters that each Southeast Asian country owns. Therefore, the Liaoning or Shandong ships' powers are very worrying ASEAN countries, "said Nagao,

He added that: "In addition to the above deterrence, Beijing also contains a message sent to Washington. In the coming time, when the US presidential election is about to take place in November, the current White House owner Donald Trump certainly needs to take a tough stance against China. So it is likely that Washington will increase its pressure on Beijing. Therefore, China organized amphibious drills on the islands and aircraft carrier drills to show its attitude of not giving up targets on issues of Taiwan and the East Sea."

As a result, Mr. Nagao predicted: “In such a context, the United States will certainly deploy more forces to regional waters. The East Sea's situation in particular and the regional sea area in general will be getting more unpredictable.

Beijing denied the accusing of its taking advantage of Covid-19

At a press conference in Beijing on May 24, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasized that "The COC consultations are proceeding smoothly and speedily, with the second reading of the text already begun. China and ASEAN countries have agreed to conclude the COC at an early date, a goal we are confident and determined to achieve. No external interference can distract or sabotage our efforts", according to Xinhua News Agency.

Wang said that "China is coordinating closely with ASEAN countries to pick up where we left off as soon as possible. We will also explore new ways of maritime cooperation to safeguard peace and stability and promote development and prosperity in the South China Sea region".. Meanwhile, editor-in-chief of the Nikkei Asian Review Toru Takahashi once warned Beijing to show a "collaborative face" while still making tensions in the area.

On the same day, May 24, Wang Yi considered it "absolutely unreasonable" to argue that the country took advantage of Covid-19 to expand its presence in the East Sea. He also said: "China has been focusing on cooperation in dealing with epidemics with ASEAN countries recently."

Last month, US Secretary Mike Pompeo warned ASEAN foreign ministers that China wanted to take advantage of the distraction from the Covid-19 pandemic to boost illegal territorial ambitions in the East Sea (South China Sea). Many analysts have similar views, though some argue that China's disturbing actions in the East Sea in recent time are part of a long-term strategy and may have been planned before Covid- 19 outbreaks.

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