China, Russia start joint naval drills in South China Sea

China says the drills are aimed at strengthening cooperation and not targeted to any other country.

The Chinese and Russian navy started drills on Monday that will continue for eight days in the South China Sea off southern China's Guangdong province.

The Chinese navy said in a statement on Sunday on its official microblog that the "joint sea-2016" exercise will include surface ships, submarines, fixed-wing aircraft, ship-borne helicopters and marines.

The statement added that both the nations will carry out defence, rescue and anti-submarine operations, as well as "island seizing" and other activities.

The marines will participate in live-fire drills, island defence and landing operations. These operations will be the largest operation ever taken together by the two countries' navies.

The exercises come after an arbitral tribunal in The Hague ruled in July that China's vast claims in the South China Sea have no legal basis. The court criticized Beijing's environmental destruction in the disputed area.

The ruling infuriated China and it refused to participate in the case. China denied to accept or recognise the tribunal's decision.

Philippines, who filed the arbitration case, requested China to accept the ruling a number of times but Beijing called the Philippines' claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea "baseless" and an "act of bad faith".

It vowed to take all necessary measures to protect its sovereignty over the South China Sea. Beijing said it had the right to set up an air defense zone.

Beijing has repeatedly blamed the United States for stirring up trouble in the South China Sea, where its territorial claims overlap in parts with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

However, the United States denied taking sides in the territorial disputes. It has sought to assert its right to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea with its patrols.

Russia has always been a strong supporter of China's stance on the arbitration case, which was filed by the Philippines.

China and Russia have always held similar views or opinions on major issues such as the crisis in Syria, often putting them at odds with the United States and Western Europe. They are veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council.

Last year, both the countries jointly organized military drills in the Sea of Japan and the Mediterranean Sea.

Earlier in July, China had announced the "routine" naval exercise. It said that the drills were aimed at strengthening cooperation and not targeted to any other country.