The US Navy confirmed on April 22nd that three US warships traveled to the South China Sea “in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region”.

us, australia send warships into disputed south china sea
US Navy-South China Sea 

It was later reported that an Australian frigate joined the three warships. According to the US Defence Department, the Australian warship HMAS Parramatta exercised with the US warships in the South China Sea “over the past few days”.

A spokesperson for the Defence Department said the HMAS Parramatta “has been undertaking an extended deployment throughout South and South-East Asia for the last two months, to help strengthen the stability and security of the region”. The ships reportedly practiced aviation operations, communications drills, and maritime maneuvers. 

Although the military drills in the region come at a time when tensions in the South China Sea have risen, defense experts say the collaboration between Australia and the US would have been planned months ago. China has been building administrative bodies and research stations on the islands in the South China Sea, including two in territory claimed by the Philippines and other nations.

The US Defence Department said Australia “has maintained a robust program of international engagement with countries in and around the South China Sea”. According to ABC News, Australian officials have been observing Beijing’s activities in the highly contested area. The three US warships and the Australian frigate arrived near the Chinese government survey ship Haiyan Dizhi 8. Malaysia’s Petronas state oil company is also conducting exploratory drilling in an area closeby.

The three US ships in the South China Sea were the USS America amphibious assault ship, the guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill, and the destroyer USS BarryReuters reports that the Haiyang Dizhi 8 was accompanied by a Chinese coastguard vessel, and the two have been moving in a pattern consistent with a seismic survey.

The US has asked China to stop its “bullying behavior” in the area, but China says the Haiyang Dizhi 8 has not been doing anything unusual except for its normal activities. China has received widespread criticism for increasing its hold on the South China Sea during the coronavirus pandemic. However, they have also been donating medical supplies to other countries struggling with the virus, which was first detected in the Chinese province of Wuhan in 2019.

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