The exercises were meant to send a clear message to China, which has increasingly been involved in multiple territorial disputes with its smaller neighbours in the region. The joint exercises involved ships from the US 7th fleet and included maritime strike operations, air defence and anti-submarine warfare operations. Rear Admiral George Wikoff, commander of the Task Force 70 told reporters that “our operations in the Indo-Pacific are focused on maintaining regional stability and security”.
He added: “Our presence reflects our commitment to the values we share with the many partners and allies in the region, and we stand prepared to deter those who challenge these mutual values with the overwhelming force of our combined carrier and amphibious strike groups.”
The joint exercises, known as Malabar 2019, were organised by Japan and brought together China’s chief rivals in the region.
They were designed to improve communications and coordination between the Indian, Japanese and US maritime forces, as well as to issue a challenge to Beijing’s claims of hegemony over the South China Sea.
The South China sea is a major shipping route for global commerce and is rich in fish and potential energy resources.
Experts believe that the region has up to 11 billion barrels’ worth of oil under the South China Sea along with 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Resource hungry Beijing has aggressively sought to assert its sovereignty over these hydrocarbon deposits.
The People’s Republic says that the entire waterway up to the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan belongs to it, a claim rejected by an international court of arbitration in 2016.
This has led to escalating tensions in the region, which are threatening to boil over into armed conflict.
Earlier this year, Japan published a Defence White Paper in which it highlighted China’s huge military spending and its ever-increasing attempts to use force to settle its disputes with its neighbours.
It claimed that Beijing was continuing “unilateral efforts to change the status quo by coercion to create a fait accompli.”
The report went on to say that in the South China Sea, the navy and air force have “expanded and intensified their activities in the surrounding sea areas and airspace of Japan, including the area surrounding the Senkaku Islands.”
China has been buying large amount of Russian military hardware in recent years as it seeks to modernise and expand its military capabilities.
These purchases have included SU-35 combat aircraft, as well as S-400 surface-to-air missile systems.
In 2017 alone the Chinese government bought roughly $15 billion worth of Russian weapons.
These exercises come after China and the Philippines became embroiled in a diplomatic spat.
The Philippines ordered a diplomatic protest against Beijing after Chinese coast guard ships violated its territorial waters in the South China Sea.
The country’s foreign secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr, who was accompanying President Duteerte to Moscow at the time, revealed his anger in a tweet.
He tweeted: “Do I have to fly home to file the goddamned diplomatic protest myself?
“That’s the military speaking. Not some friggin’ civilian media outlet. File now!”
There was no official response from the Chinese Embassy in Manila.
In recent years President Duterte has tried hard to foster better relations with China in an attempt to avoid dangerous flashpoints between the two states.
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