China and Russia will hold "routine" naval exercises in the South China Sea in September to strengthen military cooperation, China's Defense Ministry has said.
The exercises come at a time of heightened tension in the South China Sea after a Hague arbitration court ruled this month that China did not have historic rights to the entire sea, as it asserts.
China rejected the ruling, and Russia has backed China in its territorial dispute with the Phillippines and other south sea neighbors.
"This is a routine exercise between the two armed forces, aimed at strengthening the developing China-Russia strategic cooperative partnership," Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said. "The exercise is not directed against third parties."
Last year, China and Russia held joint military drills in the Sea of Japan and the Mediterranean.
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby urged China and Russia to comply with international law.
"There's no need for [the drills] to raise tensions. Exercises and operations are meant to hone capabilities," Kirby said.
"It really depends on the way it is conducted. Our expectation is that these exercises and operations, like ours, will be conducted in accordance with international obligations and the law."