Australia to Conduct Exercises with China
Days after reports indicated that Australia was canceling exercises with the Chinese navy on the heels of the U.S. Navy’s decision to sail a guided missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of China’s artificial islands, the Defense Ministry says the exercises will be conducted as planned.
According to Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne, the HMAS Stuart and HMAS Arunta will visit China's main South China Sea base of Zhanjiang in the southern province of Guangdong ahead of drills scheduled for early next week.
Payne said in a statement: “There have been no changes or delays to the schedule of the HMAS Arunta and HMAS Stuart since the United States activity in the South China Sea on October 27, 2015."
China has strongly rebuked the U.S. decision to sail within its territories. China’s Defense Ministry has called it a coercive action that seeks to militarize the South China Sea region.
About 30 percent of world trade, valued at $7 trillion, is shipped through the South China Sea. Furthermore, about 50 percent of global oil exports transit through the region.
The USS Lassen was supported by a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft as it sailed inside the 12-mile exclusion zone. This is the first time the U.S. Navy has traveled within China’s 12-mile exclusion zone since 2012.
"China will resolutely respond to any country's deliberate provocations," the ministry said in a statement.
Australia, a U.S. ally, has remained largely neutral in the disagreement.
“Australia has a legitimate interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea,” Payne said. “Approximately sixty percent of Australia’s exports pass through the South China Sea.”
Despite the discord, the U.S. and Chinese navies have agreed to maintain dialogue to avoid further misunderstandings.
Several Chinese warships are still scheduled to visit the U.S. naval station in Mayport, Florida next month.