Four states plan joint drills in South China Sea

Published April 7, 2024
US Marines V-22 Osprey aircraft hover above Australian landing helicopter dock ship HMAS Canberra during a joint exercise between Australian and Philippine troops at a naval base in San Antonio town, Zambales province on August 25, 2023. — AFP/File
US Marines V-22 Osprey aircraft hover above Australian landing helicopter dock ship HMAS Canberra during a joint exercise between Australian and Philippine troops at a naval base in San Antonio town, Zambales province on August 25, 2023. — AFP/File

MANILA: The United States, Australia, Japan and the Philippines will hold joint naval and air drills in the disputed South China Sea on Sunday, their defence chiefs said in a statement, as they deepen ties to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the region.

The exercise will take place in the disputed waterway — which Beijing claims almost entirely — days before US President Joe Biden is due to hold the first trilateral summit with the leaders of the Philippines and Japan.

“Our combined defense/armed forces will conduct a Maritime Cooperative Activity within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone on April 7, 2024,” they said in a joint statement on Saturday.

The drills named the “Maritime Cooperative Activity” will include naval and air force units from all four countries, the joint statement said.

US, Australia, Japan and Philippines vow to counter Beijing’s growing assertiveness

The four defence chiefs said they would “strengthen the interoperability of our… doctrines, tactics, techniques, and procedures”. There were no details on what the drills would precisely include.

The Japanese embassy in Manila said in a statement that “anti-submarine warfare training” would be included in the drills.

Earlier this week, Australian warship HMAS Warramunga arrived at the Philippine island of Palawan, which faces the hotly contested waters.

‘Peace and stability’

Top US officials have repeatedly declared the United States’ “ironclad” commitment to defending the Philippines against an armed attack in the South China Sea.

“These activities with our allies Australia, Japan, and the Philippines underscore our shared commitment to ensuring that all countries are free to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in the joint statement.

“Our operations together support peace and stability at the heart of our shared vision for a free and open region.”

Marcos issued a strongly worded statement on March 28, vowing the Philippines would not be “cowed into silence, submission, or subservience” by China.

Talks between the Philippines and Japan for a defence pact that would allow the countries to deploy troops on each other’s territory were “still ongoing”, a spokesman for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2024

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