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Well, this is going to be interesting.

US, Japan, Australia announce joint South China Sea exercise

TOKYO — The U.S., Japanese and Australian navies will Saturday hold a joint drill in the South China Sea — most of which China claims as its maritime territory — Japan’s defense ministry said.

Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force will send destroyer Shimakaze to join a U.S. Navy destroyer and a Royal Australian Navy patrol boat for communications training and other drills off Brunei, the defense ministry said Friday.

It will be their first joint military exercise in the South China Sea, most of which an increasingly assertive China claims as its maritime territory, but where several Southeast Asian nations have competing claims.

“The exercise is aimed at enhancing tactical skills of the Maritime Self-Defense Force and strengthening relations with the participating navies,” the ministry said in a statement.

Tensions in the strategic and resource-rich South China Sea have escalated in recent weeks, with the Philippines and Vietnam voicing alarm at what they say are increasingly forceful Chinese actions there.

They include accusations of Chinese forces opening fire on Filipino fishermen, shadowing an oil exploration vessel employed by a Philippine firm, and putting up structures in areas claimed by the Philippines.

Vietnam voiced anger after a Chinese vessel in May cut the exploration cables of a Vietnamese survey ship.

The South China Sea includes the Spratlys, a chain of islands believed to sit on vast mineral resources. (Link)

The ships involved in the exercise are reportedly the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Preble, Hatakaze-class destroyer JDS Shimakaze, and Armidale-class patrol boat HMAS Broome. All three have just participated in the International Fleet Review in Muara, Brunei.

How China will react to what can only be described as a coordinated act of defiance of Chinese claims to the South China Sea remain to be seen. Here is a BBC map that outlines China’s claim, roughly; roughly because China has not bothered to exactly define its claim.

In a case of curious timing U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen is headed to China for a four day visit. This follows his hosting of PLA Chief of the General Staff Chen Bingde in a weeklong visit of U.S. military bases. How the Chinese will react to Mullen’s visit now remains to be seen. Given China’s sensitivity to perceived slights and affronts to its national dignity Mullen could be in for an uncomfortable visit.

USS Preble apparently plans to spend a lot of time in the South China Sea, as it is expected in Vietnam in mid-July.

USS Preble

JDS Shimakaze

HMAS Broome

Thanks to Susumu at Surveillance To Go Nowhere and Dzirhan Mahadzir.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 536 post(s) on Japan Security Watch