US, Allies Conduct Joint Naval Exercises In South China Sea Amid Territorial Disputes

The United States, Australia, Japan and the Philippines conducted their first joint naval exercises in the South China Sea last month, a move that underscores the growing cooperation among the four nations in the face of China’s assertiveness in the disputed waterway.

The exercises took place amid long-simmering territorial disputes between China and several Southeast Asian nations in the South China Sea, a major shipping route. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the drills strengthened the ability of the nations to work together, build bonds among their forces and underscore their shared commitment to international law in the waterway.

The defense chiefs of the four countries gathered in Hawaii on Thursday for their second-ever joint meeting, focusing on strengthening cooperation and addressing concerns about China’s operations in the South China Sea. Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles noted that the defense leaders discussed increasing the tempo of their defense exercises.

Tensions have escalated between the Philippines and China over the resource-rich region, with China employing collision and ramming tactics, deploying undersea barriers and utilizing military-grade lasers to hinder Philippine resupply and patrol missions. China has expressed its intention to assert control over access to the South China Sea and bring Taiwan under its authority, even by force if necessary.