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South China Sea latest: Vietnam warns Beijing military drills could wreck negotiations | World | News

China has been conducting five simultaneous exercises along different parts of its coast including two drills near the Paracel Islands which are also claimed by Vietnam. Vietnam’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said the Chinese activity could complicate efforts to restart talks on a long-awaited code between Beijing and members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Ms Hang said: “The resumption of code of conduct negotiations after a long pause because of the coronavirus pandemic is the priority of ASEAN countries and China.”

She said Vietnam shared that priority and “looks forward to “concluding the code of conduct in an effective, comprehensive way”, in line with international law.

China, which has for years been locked in maritime disputes with other coastal states in the South China Sea, has in recent months boosted its presence and held exercises in disputed parts of the strategic waterway, at a time when other claimants are battling coronavirus outbreaks.

The US has accused China of bullying its neighbours, while Beijing says Washington and its Western allies have been interfering and endangering security by sending naval vessels to the region.

In August, Vietnam warned the presence of Chinese bombers on the Paracel Islands “jeopardises peace”.

Ms Hang said Vietnam demanded China respect its sovereignty and does not repeat such drills in the area.

The code of conduct has been a stated goal of ASEAN and China for nearly two decades, but regional security experts have questioned China’s sincerity towards concluding it and doubted whether a legally binding agreement can be forged.

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This week’s Chinese military manoeuvres – the second time in two months the People’s Liberation Army has carried out concurrent drills – come against a backdrop of soaring regional tension.

The Paracel Island drills got underway on Monday at the same time as excercises began in the East China Sea, further north in the Bohai Sea, and the southern part of the Yellow Sea where live-fire exercises were scheduled to continue until yesterday.

China holds regular military drills in a bid to train and maintain a combat-ready force but rarely do multiple exercises happen at the same time.

Last month, China announced four separate exercises, from the Bohai Sea to the East and Yellow Seas and down to the South China Sea, in what Chinese military experts said was a rare arrangement of drills.

The US responded by sending spy planes into a no-fly zone over Chinese live-fire military drills last, prompting Beijing to lodged “stern representations” with the Washington.

Ties between China and the US are at the lowest point in decades, with the world’s top two economies at loggerheads over issues ranging from China’s handling of the coronavirus to trade rivalries, new national security legislation in Hong Kong and tensions in the South China Sea.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called on southeast Asian countries to not “just speak up but act” against Chinese “bullying” in the region.

Speaking at a virtual summit of ASEAN foreign ministers he said: “Reconsider business dealings with the very state-owned companies that bully ASEAN coastal states in the South China Sea.

“Don’t let the Chinese Communist Party walk over us and our people.”

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Mr Pompeo has announced plans to travel to Japan, Mongolia and South Korea next week to bolster ties with the regional allies.

During the trip he will participate in the second meeting of “Quad”, a gathering of foreign ministers from India, Australia and Japan that was revived in 2017 to deepen security cooperation and coordinate alternatives for regional infrastructure financing offered by China.

Mr Pompeo’s Asia visit comes in the run-up to the November 3 presidential election with Donald Trump making his tough stance on China an important foreign policy platform as he seeks a second term in office.

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