Reuters International

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015. U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

(reuters_tickers)

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The Chinese navy conducted combat drills near its southern island province of Hainan and the Paracel islands in the South China Sea, the Ministry of Defence said on Saturday.

The drills come ahead of a July 12 ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration on a case brought by the Philippines disputing several of China's territory claims in the South China Sea.

Ships from China's northern, eastern and southern fleets participated in Friday's drills, which focussed on air control, surface operations and anti-submarine warfare, among other training exercises, the ministry said in a website statement.

China claims nearly all the South China Sea, but its claims overlap in part with those of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

China has repeatedly said it does not consider any decision reached by the arbitration court to be legally binding.

"China adheres to the position of settling disputes through negotiation and consultation with states directly concerned," state news agency Xinhua said in a commentary on Saturday.

"This has always been China's policy, and it will never change."

(Reporting by Nathaniel Taplin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

reuters_tickers

 Reuters International