Thursday, June 13, 2024

Australia and its allies to hold navy drills in the South China Sea for the first time as Beijing watches on

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Australia, the United States, Japan and the Philippines will conduct naval drills in the South China Sea today, as China continues to try to assert its dominance in the region.

Defence Minister Richard Marles says Australia has consistently emphasised the importance for all states to be able to exercise rights and freedoms, including freedom of navigation.

China and the Philippines have clashed in the South China Sea in recent months, with Chinese coast guard vessels using water cannons against Filippino ships.

“Respect for national sovereignty and agreed rules and norms based on international law underpin the stability of our region,” Mr Marles said.

China was not mentioned by name in a joint statement released by the defence chiefs of the four treaty allies, but the countries reaffirmed their stance that a 2016 international arbitration ruling — which invalidated China’s expansive claims on historical grounds — was final and legally binding.

China has refused to participate in the arbitration, rejected the ruling and continues to defy it.

There was no immediate comment by China but last year, it warned against military exercises involving the US and its allies in the disputed waters harming its security and territorial interests.

Anti-submarine warfare drills planned

Japan’s embassy in Manila issued a statement saying it would deploy its destroyer, the JS Akebono, for the drills that would include anti-submarine warfare training.

“Japan believes that the issue concerning the South China Sea is directly related to the peace and stability of the region and is a legitimate concern of the international community,” Japan’s Defence Minister Minoru Kihara said in the statement.

The Chinese coast guard has hit vessels from the Philippines in the South China Sea twice in recent weeks.(Armed Forces of the Philippines via AP)

Philippine Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Junior said the military drills would be the first in a series of activities to build the Philippines’ “capacity for individual and collective self-defence”.

The maritime activity takes place days before a summit between the leaders of Japan, the US and the Philippines, which will include a discussion of recent incidents in the South China Sea.

Since taking power in 2022, Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Junior has pursued warmer ties with the US and other western nations and adopted a tough line against what he sees as Chinese hostility, turning away from his predecessor’s pro-Beijing stance.

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The Philippines and China had several maritime run-ins last month that included the use of water cannon and heated verbal exchanges, and have triggered concern about an escalation at sea.

China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, which rankled neighbouring countries that dispute some boundaries they say cut into their exclusive economic zones.

Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam have competing claims of sovereignty in portions of the South China Sea, a passage through which $US3 trillion in goods move every year.

AP/Reuters

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