Chinese coast guard
China's coast guard launched a three-day live-firing drill in the Gulf of Tonkin and has barred all ships and boats from entering the region REUTERS/Nguyen Minh/File Photo

Adding to the latest in a series of military drills, Beijing has said a branch of its coast guard is holding live-fire exercises from Monday to Wednesday (22 - 24 August). The drill is being staged at the Gulf of Tonkin, the northern arm of the South China Sea, home to several territorial disputes among Asian countries.

Despite fresh tensions in the disputed waters, China's Maritime Safety Administration said it was banning vessels from entering the area between China's southern island province of Hainan and the northern coast of Vietnam. The Tonkin Gulf has historical significance over the Vietnam War between the US and Vietnam, the Associated Press reported.

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China has been modernising its military and pressing its sovereignty claims over the disputed waters, while its navy and air force have carried out several drills in the region in recent times, especially since the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague invalidated Beijing's unilateral claims in the South China Sea.

It emerged on Sunday (21 August) that China had reportedly threatened to launch military action against Japan if the latter pushed Beijing to adhere to international maritime laws and respect The Hague ruling.

According to news reports, the incident took place in June, when China's ambassador to Japan warned of crossing a "red line" if Japanese vessels sailed near Chinese-claimed territories in the South China Sea in the name of freedom of navigation.

Beijing has also cautioned that it would start flying air patrols over the strategic waterway or continue developing airstrips and harbours in the man-made islands it controls in the Spratlys. China is pitted against neighbours like Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei over coral reefs and lagoons in the sea that is crucial for global trade and is rich in oil and mineral reserves.

China also reportedly sent its planes and ships and held war games in the Sea of Japan last week. However, the communist country did not reveal who its latest military drills were targeted at or why it chose the Sea of Japan as its location.

China is in dispute with Japan over territorial claims in the East China Sea. It is reported to have shown its increased presence in the East too, claiming to control a chain of uninhabited islands that Japan claims as its own. Beijing recently even dispatched an unprecedented huge fleet of coast guard vessels to the region while its fishing vessels sailed near the surrounding waters.

Meanwhile, top diplomats of China, Japan and South Korea are expected to hold a meeting on 23<sup>rd and 24<sup>th August in a bid to reduce tensions in the disputed waters and seek cooperation and peace in the region. The meeting is said to be an opportunity to discuss strained Sino-Japanese ties in the wake of the East China Sea dispute, and other issues such as North Korea's nuclear and missile developments.