Home » Philippines, U.S., Australia and Japan set to hold joint drills in disputed South China Sea
Asia Defence Global News News North America Politics United States

Philippines, U.S., Australia and Japan set to hold joint drills in disputed South China Sea

Japan was set to join the United States, Australia and the Philippines for joint naval and air drills in the disputed South China Sea on Sunday, as China announced its own exercises in the strategic waterway.

The defense chiefs from the four partner nations said Saturday that the joint drills, which were to take place in an area within the Philippine’s exclusive economic zone in the strategic waterway, were intended to demonstrate their “collective commitment to strengthen regional and international cooperation in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Under its so-called nine dash line, Beijing maintains a claim to some 90% of the resource-rich South China Sea — through which trillions of dollars in trade flow every year — despite overlapping claims with Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines.

“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, including Japan, Australia, the Philippines and the United States,” Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said in a statement. “Japan opposes any unilateral changes to the status quo by force, such attempts as well as any actions that increase tensions in the South China Sea.”

The quadrilateral exercises, dubbed a “Maritime Cooperative Activity,” were to include naval and air force units from all four countries, a joint statement said, with the four defense chiefs adding that they would “strengthen the interoperability of our … doctrines, tactics, techniques and procedures.”

Philippine defense chief Gilberto Teodoro said the exercises would be a step toward enhancing the country’s “capacity for individual and collective self-defense,” and would be part of activities highlighting “the enduring friendship and partnership” between the four nations.

Japan’s Kyodo News said in a report that “anti-submarine warfare training” would be included in the drills — the first full-scale exercises involving the four countries that were aimed at improving interoperability.

The drills were expected to involve the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Akebono destroyer and the Australian warship HMAS Warramunga, which arrived at the Philippine island of Palawan last week, among others.

China Coast Guard vessels fire water cannons toward a Philippine resupply vessel on its way to Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea on March 5.
China Coast Guard vessels fire water cannons toward a Philippine resupply vessel on its way to Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea on March 5. | REUTERS

The Chinese military said on Sunday that its Southern Theater Command had organized its own drills in the South China Sea, conducting a “joint maritime and aerial combat patrol” in an unspecified area of the waterway.

“All military activities that disturb the stability of the South China Sea are under control,” a statement posted to the Chinese Defense Ministry website said, in an apparent jab at the quadrilateral exercises.

China has conducted a massive land reclamation project to essentially build and militarize a number of islands in the waters, despite protests from other claimants, as well as the United States and Japan. The U.S. and its allies fear that the Chinese-held outposts, some of which boast military-grade airfields and advanced weaponry, could be used to restrict free movement in the area.

The Asian powerhouse has hardened its position on the waterway in the years following a landmark July 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that invalidated most of its claims there — pursuing a more aggressive stance in the waters that employs naval, coast guard and so-called maritime militia ships.

Tensions between Manila and Beijing have soared in recent months in the South China Sea — in particular near the Second Thomas Shoal. The shoal is home to a Philippine military outpost, and the waters nearby have seen clashes between the two sides, including several collisions and the use of powerful water cannons by the China Coast Guard, that have threatened to escalate into a larger crisis, including one that could draw in the U.S., Manila’s defense treaty ally.

Sunday’s dueling exercises come days ahead of a state visit to Washington by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden followed by the first-ever trilateral summit with the two leaders and the president of the Philippines.

At that summit, the three leaders will discuss expanding trilateral cooperation in a number of areas, including in the defense arena, with the trio aiming to build up what Washington calls a “collective capacity” in the region that also reduces redundancies and improves security coordination.

Source: The Japan Times