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Chinese warships steam through the South China Sea during an exercise with the Singaporean navy, Feb. 24, 2021.
Chinese warships steam through the South China Sea during an exercise with the Singaporean navy, Feb. 24, 2021. (Liang Lihu/Chinese Ministry of National Defense)

Beijing on Monday kicked off a military exercise in the South China Sea scheduled to last until March 31, according to a report by the South China Morning Post the same day.

The military drills will occur within a 5-kilometer radius of a point west of the Leizhou Peninsula, the state-run Global Times reported Sunday. Beijing will prohibit other vessels from coming into that area this month, according to a Friday notice on the Chinese Maritime Safety Administration’s website.

The region is a flashpoint between the United States and China, as Beijing claims nearly all of it as its territorial waters despite a United Nations ruling to the contrary. The U.S. regularly challenges those claims by conducting regular patrols, military exercises and freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, to which China routinely objects.

The Chinese Ministry of National Defense did not go into detail about the monthlong exercise, but in a statement Monday said China would “not lose an inch of land left to us by our ancestors.”

Beijing bases its South China Sea claims on its own 1947 map that includes a nine-dash line that encompasses those waters. However, a U.N. tribunal rejected China’s claim in 2016 following a challenge from the Philippines.

The monthlong exercise comes as the U.S. has stepped up its military operations in the contentious waters and two French warships are en route from Toulon to patrol the region, according to the French navy.

In the past month alone, the U.S. has held a dual-carrier exercise with the USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt and two freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, along with two transits of the Taiwan Strait.

The U.S. for years has encouraged its allies to become more involved in patrolling the Western Pacific. Britain plans to send its aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to the region this year, while French Defense Minister Florence Parly on Feb. 8 tweeted that a French submarine patrolled the South China Sea in early February.

In its statement Monday, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense criticized the U.S. for “hyping the so-called Chinese threat and urging allies to jointly compete against China,” according to a report by China Daily.

“Military alliance against a third party is a product of Cold-War mentality,” the defense ministry said in its statement. "It is no longer appropriate for the current age and should be tossed into the trash bin of history.”

doornbos.caitlin@stripes.com Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos

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