Philippines, US, Australia and Japan hold joint military drills in disputed South China Sea

US Navy ships in South China.

The US, Japan, Australia and the Philippines held a joint maritime exercise in the disputed South China Sea, the Philippines military said late Sunday.

This has propelled their common rival China to launch a naval and air patrol in response, Anadolu Agency reported.

Held on Sunday within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, the four-nation drill demonstrated the countries’ “commitment to strengthen regional and international cooperation in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific through interoperability exercises in the maritime domain,” the Manila Times newspaper reported, citing the military.

The four countries’ forces performed a communication exercise, division tactics and other drills.

The exercise was joined by Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Akebono, a US combat ship Mobile, the Royal Australian Navy frigate Warramunga and the Philippine Navy frigate Antonio Luna, among others.

China’s military on Sunday conducted a naval and air patrol in the disputed South China Sea to counter the four-nation joint drills amid heightened tensions in the region.

The territorial claims in the resource-rich South China Sea remain highly contested, despite repeated calls for a negotiated settlement and avoiding breaches of sovereignty.

In 2016, China was dealt a blow when the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), an international tribunal based in The Hague, ruled that Beijing’s nine-dash line claim has no legal basis under international law.

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