China announced on Sunday April 7 that it would carry out “combat patrols” in the South China Sea – a contested maritime zone – where joint maneuvers by the Philippines, the United States, from Japan and Australia.

“On April 7, the Southern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army will hold joint naval and air combat patrols in the South China Sea,” the Chinese military announced. “All military activities that disrupt the situation in the South China Sea and create hot spots are under control,” it added in its statement, in an apparent allusion to other countries’ exercises in the same waters. No details were provided on the nature and location of the Chinese maneuvers.

On Saturday, the Philippines, the United States, Japan and Australia announced that they would hold joint naval and air exercises in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone on Sunday. The four countries had stressed, in a joint statement, that this will demonstrate the “collective commitment” of the allies “to strengthen regional and international cooperation in favor of a free and open Indo-Pacific region”.

Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Li Qiang said on Sunday he hoped the United States and China could be “partners, not adversaries,” while speaking to U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in Beijing. Li noted at the start of their bilateral meeting that Chinese netizens have been closely following Yellen’s visit since her arrival in the city of Guangzhou this week, which he said shows “expectation and hope that the relationship between China and the United States continues to improve.”

Meeting between Biden, Marcos and Kishida in Washington

At the same time, a trilateral summit between US President Joe Biden, his Philippine counterpart Ferdinand Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is scheduled for April 11 at the White House in Washington.

The naval exercises and summit come after several skirmishes between Chinese and Filipino ships near atolls off the Philippines in recent months. Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, including waters and islands near the coasts of several neighboring countries, despite an international court ruling ruling against it in 2016.

Senior US officials have repeatedly affirmed America’s “ironclad” commitment to defend the Philippines in the South China Sea in the event of an armed attack.

At the same time, the Philippines and Japan have begun talks towards a defense pact that would allow both countries to deploy troops in each other’s territories. Manila has already concluded a similar agreement with Australia and the United States.