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South China Sea: US, Philippines, Japan, Australia to hold naval drill on Sunday amid China’s aggressive actions

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Japan, the United States, Australia and the Philippines are set to hold a joint naval exercise on Sunday off the Southeast Asian country’s Palawan Island in the South China Sea, multiple government sources said on Tuesday, amid China’s continuing aggressive actions.

It would be the first full-scale exercise involving the four countries aimed at enhancing interoperability among their forces, the sources said. The exercise will include anti-submarine warfare training, communication drills and sailing ships in formation.

In August, the same countries conducted joint training on offshore replenishment off the northwest Philippines. Their crews simply exchanged salutes and assembled for a photo exercise.

Will China’s fourth aircraft carrier steer towards troubled waters in Asia?

Sunday’s planned drill would occur against the backdrop of China’s assertiveness in the resource-rich South China Sea. The latest incident happened on March 23 when the Chinese Coast Guard fired a water cannon at a Philippine vessel on a mission to the Manila-controlled Second Thomas Shoal.

The vessel was heavily damaged in the incident, while Filipino servicemen aboard were injured.

Since last year, the Philippines has held separate “maritime cooperative activities” with the United States and Australia, which have agreements for visiting forces.

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Chinese floating barrier blocks entrance to Philippine ships at South China Sea flashpoint

Chinese floating barrier blocks entrance to Philippine ships at South China Sea flashpoint

The Royal Australian Navy’s frigate Warramunga arrived in Palawan for a port call ahead of the joint exercise, with Commander Jennifer Graham paying a courtesy call on the Philippine military commander in the area, a Philippine source said.

The Warramunga, an Australian aircraft, a Japanese destroyer, and several naval assets from the United States and the Philippines are taking part in the drill, another source said. The exercise will be conducted outside Philippine territorial waters but within its exclusive economic zone.

The Philippines has expressed its intention to hold a joint exercise with the three countries several times a year, the source added.

Philippines boosts maritime security as tension with China boils over

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr said on March 28 that he has been in constant communication with his country’s allies and that his government is preparing a “response and countermeasure package that is proportionate, deliberate, and reasonable” to the dangerous attacks by the China Coast Guard and its militia vessels in the South China Sea.
Marcos is set to meet with US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Washington on April 11. Marcos has said that he and the leaders are expected to forge an agreement that will add more structure to the three countries’ interoperability and joint cruises.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, even though the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated its sweeping claims in a 2016 ruling. The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim parts of the resource-rich international waterway.

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