Beijing has begun military drills in the South China Sea, state media reported Saturday ahead of a ruling by an international arbitration court on a dispute with the Philippines over the strategic waters. The navy Friday carried out "combat exercises" with "live missiles" between the Paracels and the southern Chinese island of Hainan, the PLA Daily, the military's official newspaper, said on its website. State television CCTV broadcast images of fighter aircraft and ships firing missiles, helicopters taking off and submarines surfacing. "The drill focused on air control operations, sea battles and anti-submarine warfare", said the PLA Daily, whose article was reposted on the defence ministry website. The military manoeuvres come as the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is set to make its final decision on Tuesday in the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China. The PLA Daily however insisted they were "routine exercises" and unrelated to the court's ruling. China asserts sovereignty over almost all of the strategically vital waters in the face of rival claims from its Southeast Asian neighbours, most notably the Philippines and Vietnam. To bolster its claims it has rapidly turned reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes. Manila lodged its suit against Beijing in 2013, challenging China's claims to much of the strategic waterway and saying it was in violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which both countries are signatories. Beijing has boycotted the proceedings, saying the court has no jurisdiction over the issue and that it will ignore the ruling. The Philippines said Friday it was willing to share natural resources with Beijing in the contested seas even if it wins next week's legal challenge. Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay told AFP that President Rodrigo Duterte's administration hoped to quickly begin direct talks with China following Tuesday's verdict. He said the negotiations could cover jointly exploiting natural gas reserves and fishing grounds within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
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