The South China Sea is already a powderkeg, given the major tensions in the region over a six-way maritime Mexican Standoff involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei. This past summer, China saw an international tribunal rule against its claims in that body and condemn Beijing's construction of artificial islands.
The forward deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85), left, leads the Russian Federation navy Slava-class guided-missile cruiser Varyag and the Irkut tanker during Pacific Eagle, a bilateral exercise with the Russian Federation navy. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Corey Hensley)
That's not to say China's abiding by the ruling. Far from it, to be honest. The Chinese took a page from the playbook of Game of Thrones' Cersei Lannister by not even showing up for any of the process leading up to the ruling. China doesn't seem to care that the ruling went against them, as it is now inviting Russia for joint exercises in the maritime flashpoint for the fifth straight year.
According to a report from the Times of India, Chinese military spokesman Liang Yang said, "Chinese and Russian participants will undertake defense, rescue, and anti-submarine operations, in addition to joint-island seizing missions and other activities."
The Times of India noted China has sent 10 naval vessels to take part in the exercise, along with 11 aircraft, eight helicopters, and other military assets. Russia is reportedly sending three surface combatants, two supply vessels, and other assets as well.
Two of the vessels Russia sent were an Udaloy-class "large anti-submarine ship" (often referred to as a destroyer in Western media) and a Ropucha-class landing ship.
The South China Sea has seen a number of incidents in the past few years involving Chinese forces. Shortly before the international tribunal issued its ruling on China's claims, Chinese forces sank a Vietnamese fishing boat and then interfered with rescue operations. Chinese aircraft have also made a number of close passes to U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and EP-3E Aries II electronic surveillance aircraft, including some within ten feet.
One such close pass in 2001 went wrong, and a Chinese J-8 "Finback" collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries II. The Chinese plane crashed, killing the pilot, Wang Wei, while the EP-3E made an emergency landing on Hainan Island, where the 24-person crew was held for ten days. Lieutenant Shane Osborn received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions after the incident.