A notice released by China’s Hainan Maritime Safety Administration on Thursday stated that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will be staging the exercise “from 01:00 on March 12 to 03:00 on March 14, 2021.” The notice states that the drills will take place within a 5.5-mile radius of map coordinates 19-37.12N and 110-57.32E, warning vessels to keep clear during the time period mentioned.
Mr Ellwood, chairman of Parliament’s Defence Committee as well as a prominent member of the China Research Group (CRG), said it was no coincidence that the announcement came shortly after the US navy sent Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, USS John Finn, through the Taiwan strait on Wednesday in accordance with International law.
The Strait is not in the South China Sea – but China, led by President Xi Jinping, likewise vehemently objects to Western vessels traversing the narrow waterway which separates the island from the Chinese mainland.
He also said it was likely to be connected to US President Joe Biden’s virtual meeting with representatives of India, Japan and Australia – who together with the US make up the so-called Quad group of countries – during which the security situation in the region was on the agenda.
Mr Ellwood told Express.co.uk: “These are tactical gestures that are taking place in the absence of a wider Western strategy of how to deal with China.
“Its Navy is growing almost exponentially each year and it uses the guise of these exercises to permanently embed prominently embed its position and maritime assets encroach around this so-called nine-dotted line around the South China Sea.
“We’ll respond by sending vessels through and the French as well but ultimately, it will not change China’s behaviour.
“And they will continue to expand their footprint across the South China Sea with these events occurring more frequently.”
Referring to the USS John Finn’s recent mission, as well as the meeting of the Quad, Mr Ellwood, the Tory MP for Bournemouth East, added: “It’s a response.
“But it’s also a recognition of the frequency in which these events are taking place, as I say, to take over the maritime ever more of the maritime space across the South China Sea.
“Every time they do these events, international shipping and international maritime activity is forced to avoid these areas for a period to avoid triggering an accidental conflict.
“Which means of course, which of course means the more they have these events, the more we are pushed out of what is very clearly labelled as international waters.”
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at a briefing today the meeting between the Quad countries, a group central to Biden’s efforts to counter China’s growing military and economic power in the Indo-Pacific, did not focus on China, but did touch on freedom of navigation in the East and South China Seas.
Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week, Philip Davidson, the head of US Indo-Pacific Command, warned China was assembling an increasingly offensive military and expanding its regional footprint in Asia.
He said: “I cannot for the life of me understand some of the capabilities that they’re putting in the field unless it is an aggressive posture.
“I see them developing systems, capabilities and a posture that would indicate that they’re interested in aggression
“I’m worried that they’re accelerating their ambitions to supplant the United States and our leadership role in the rules-based international order, which they’ve long said that they want to do that by 2050.
“I’m worried about them moving that target closer.”
China’s 2019 defence white paper insists: “The development of China’s national defence aims to meet its rightful security needs and contribute to the growth of the world’s peaceful forces.
“China will never threaten any other country or seek any sphere of influence.”