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China to hold drills in disputed waters ahead of int'l court ruling

[BEIJING] China will conduct military drills in the disputed South China Sea, the government said on Sunday, ahead of an international tribunal ruling on Beijing's maritime claims in the resource-rich area.

The drills will be held in waters around the Paracel Islands from July 5-11, with other ships prohibited from entering the waters during that time, a short statement by the maritime safety administration said.

The military exercises come as an international tribunal in The Hague prepares to rule on a case brought by the Philippines challenging China's claims in the strategic waterway.

Manila lodged the suit against Beijing in early 2013, saying that after 17 years of negotiations, it had exhausted all political and diplomatic avenues to settle the dispute.

Beijing - which asserts sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea despite rival claims from Southeast Asian neighbours - insists that the Permanent Court of Arbitration has no jurisdiction over the issue and has boycotted the proceedings.

Basing its claims on a vaguely defined "nine-dash" Chinese map dating back to the 1940s, Beijing has rapidly turned reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes.

Manila contends that the "nine-dash" line has no basis under international law and that Beijing has no "historic" claim to the ocean.

Tensions in the South China Sea have alarmed other nations, and most notably the United States - which has key defence treaties with many allies in the region, and in a show of strength has sent warships close to some of the Chinese-claimed reefs.

But President Xi Jinping said in a speech last week that China will never compromise on sovereignty, and that the country was "not afraid of trouble".

In an apparent stab at the US, Mr Xi said: "We will not show up at other people's front doors to flex our muscles. That does not show strength or scare anyone."

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to the sea.