China, Russia Begin Joint Exercises in South China Sea

The Russian and Chinese navies began a joint exercise on Monday in the South China Sea, according to Chinese government-controlled media. A total of 10 naval ships, 11 aircraft, eight helicopters, and 160 Chinese marines will participate in the exercise, which runs through Sept. 19. The Russians are bringing three ships, two supply ships, two helicopters, and 96 marines with “amphibious armored equipment.” The exercise, called “Joint Sea 2016,” will involve “anti-submarine warfare, vessel rescue, joint air defense, and taking an island with amphibious and airborne troops,” according to Russian government media. Russia and China have participated in annual naval exercises since 2012, including last year in the Sea of Japan. This year’s exercise is drawing heightened attention because of its location in the hotly disputed South China Sea where, in the past year, China has asserted historical rights to islands claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. While an international tribunal at The Hague ruled against the claims in July, China has continued to assert its sovereignty and challenge freedom of commerce in the South China Sea, which carries over $5 trillion of trade annually.