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Aug 24, 2020 / 18:41

China conducts another military exercise in Paracels: Carl Thayer

China must demonstrate that it is capable of standing up to the US.

China on August 23 started military drills near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, according to Emeritus Professor Carl Thayer at the University of New South Wales, Canberra.

 The guided-missile frigate Hengyang (Hull 568) attached to a destroyer flotilla with the navy under the PLA Southern Theater Command fires its main gun against mock ashore targets during a maritime live-fire training exercise in waters of the South China Sea on June 18, 2020. Photo: Li Wei

China’s Maritime Safety Administration said the exercises would run from August 23 through August 30. It warned outside vessels to steer 5 nautical miles (9.26 kilometers) clear of the drill area, but gave no details, according to AP.

China announced late last month that it had held drills in the South China Sea involving long-range bombers and other aircraft.


China’s latest iteration of naval exercises to commence in the waters around the Paracel Islands on August 23 is primarily a response to recent US Navy exercises in the Philippine Sea and South China Sea, Prof. Thayer said in a brief released on August 23 in response to questions about implications of military exercise for the bilateral relations.

It also overlaps with the ongoing Rim of the Pacific Exercises in the waters around the Hawaiian islands on August 17-31 that China was not invited to participate in.

“In other words, China’s military exercises are part of an action-reaction cycle,” the professor said.

These exercises are clearly aimed at three audiences namely the US, the South China Sea littoral states, including Vietnam, and the Chinese people as Xi Jinping must demonstrate that China is capable of standing up to the US or – in the words of Chinese propagandists – “expelling the United States” from Chinese waters.

China’s forthcoming military exercises will carry the subliminal message that Beijing is a rising power that has sovereignty over the Paracels; and further, that Southeast Asian states should join with China for regional peace and security and not rely on the United States a country “outside the region,” Prof. Thayer noted.

In sum, China’s forthcoming military exercises are not directly aimed at intimidating Vietnam.

Vietnam has always made strong protest against Chinese military exercise, saying it has full evidence of the sovereignty over Paracels.

China seized Vietnam’s Paracels in a bloody battle in 1974.

The drills coincide with the celebration of the Vietnam-China Land Border Treaty that took effect in 2000. The 20th anniversary held in Vietnam's Quang Ninh province on August 23 marked the attendance of Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.