Japan, U.S., Australia, Philippines conduct joint naval drills

Japan, the United States, Australia and the Philippines have held joint naval drills in the South China Sea, the Japanese Defense Ministry said Friday, amid China’s continuous attempts to obstruct Manila’s supply activities at military footholds in the water.

The four countries’ training on Thursday comes after a Chinese coast guard vessel shot a water cannon at a Philippine military-chartered boat near the Manila-controlled Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea early this month.

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s largest destroyer, Izumo, and destroyer Samidare took part in the drills, the ministry said.

The two Japanese vessels will dock at the Manila port from Friday through next Thursday, according to the ministry.

Izumo is set to become a de facto aircraft carrier after undergoing additional renovations slated to begin next year or 2025.

The U.S. Navy’s littoral combat ship Mobile, Australia’s amphibious assault ship Canberra, frigate Anzac and F-35A fighter jets, and the Philippine Navy’s landing ship Davao Del Sur were the others involved in the exercises, the ministry said.

The ministry said in a statement that the purpose of the training is to “strengthen collaboration toward the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” a Tokyo-promoted concept widely seen as countering Beijing’s rising clout in the region.

The joint exercises had initially been scheduled for Wednesday as trilateral drills as the Philippine forces had planned to forgo participating in them, according to sources close to the matter.

The U.S. Navy had been expected to send its amphibious assault ship America, the sources also said, but it was replaced by Mobile.

The Philippines, facing increased military pressure from China in the South China Sea, is considering joint maritime patrols with Japanese, U.S. and Australian ships, according to the sources.

Japan, the United States, Australia and the Philippines held their first-ever defense ministerial meeting in June in Singapore, agreeing to strengthen security cooperation to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific.

China, claiming sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea, has swiftly constructed artificial islands equipped with military infrastructure in these waters, which host some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

In February, the Chinese coast guard aimed a military-grade laser at a Philippine patrol vessel in waters near the Second Thomas Shoal.

By Perviz Mughal