Russia And China Team Up To Take On US In South China Sea

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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Russia and China will hold joint war drills in the South China Sea in September 2016, the two countries announced Thursday, challenging U.S. calls for China to heed an international tribunal ruling that denied Chinese territorial rights in the South China Sea.

The drill is the first of its kind in the South China Sea in the history of the two navies, marking an elevated posture in an already contentious region.

China sought to downplay the significance of the exercise as “a routine exercise between the two armed forces, aimed at strengthening the developing China-Russia strategic cooperative partnership.” China felt the need to clarify, “The exercise is not directed against third parties.”

Russia is a strong backer of Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, and publicly sided with China after the international tribunal’s ruling. The war drills will take place in the disputed territorial waters that China’s Navy called, “China’s inherent territory.” China said it will “never stop’ expanding in the South China Sea in a Tuesday statement to  Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations.

China and Russia are both veto members on the UN security council and will likely stifle any western effort to sanction China for its territorial expansion in the South China Sea. Both have a storied history of harassing U.S. ships on the high seas, and deeper naval cooperation is likely to increase tensions in the disputed waters.

Despite their claims, China has repeatedly portrayed the U.S. as a villain in the South China Sea for backing smaller nation’s territorial claims.

One leading Chinese propaganda outlet said in early July, “Even though China cannot keep up with the U.S. militarily in the short-term, it should be able to let the U.S. pay a cost it cannot stand if it intervenes in the South China Sea dispute by force.” Beyond backing its allies, the U.S. wants to ensure China does not gain a stranglehold of power over one of the most vital trade networks in the world.

The Council on Foreign Relations noted in 2015 that 5.3 trillion dollars of world goods moved through the South China Sea, with 1.2 trillion of that bound for U.S. shores. Any disruption in this shipping channel would throw world markets into chaos.

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