Australia and the US yesterday began their biggest-ever joint military exercise, a show of force — largely at sea — aimed at sending a message to allies and potential foes, including China.
The exercise, involving 33,000 US and Australian troops on board warships equipped with strike jets, comes as tension over China’s more assertive activity, particularly in the disputed South China Sea, has raised fears of confrontation.
Asked how he thought China would view the exercise, US Navy Admiral Harry Harris, commander of US Pacific Command, said the size of the deployment was intended as a signal.
“I’m pleased about that message it sends our friends, allies, partners and potential adversaries,” Harris told reporters on board the USS Bonhomme Richard.
Relations between the US and China have soured in the past few months, as Washington seeks to counter what it perceives as Beijing’s assertiveness in the Pacific, encapsulated by China’s building of artificial islands in the South China Sea.
China claims most of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion in shipborne trade passes every year. Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam also have claims to the waterway.
The US has estimated that China has added more than 1,300 hectares of land on seven reefs and tiny isles in the South China Sea over the past three years, installing runways, ports, aircraft hangars and communications equipment.
The exercise is to go on for a month in Australian territorial waters, and is to include training in land and air operations.
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