Two Australian warships will join the Chinese Navy in the South China Sea to hold naval exercises in disputed waters there, Australia’s Defense Minister Marise Payne says.
Anzac-class HMAS Stuart and HMAS Arunta frigates of the Royal Australian Navy will soon arrive at China’s main base of Zhanjiang in a port call ahead of the drills scheduled for early next week, Payne said on Thursday.
“The Royal Australian Navy has a long history of engagement with regional navies and regularly conducts port visits and exercises – including in China,” she said.
The development comes just days after a US Navy guided-missile destroyer entered waters close to islands where China is said to be doing construction work in the sea.
Payne dismissed any changes or delays to the schedule of the drills “since the United States activity” in the South China Sea. She, however, stopped short of providing any information about the exact location of the exercises.
On October 27, the USS Lassen sailed near what is referred to in the West as the Spratly Islands archipelago, a disputed group of hundreds of reefs, islets, atolls and islands in the South China.
The sailing drew Beijing’s reaction, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry warning that the US vessel had “illegally” sailed near the islands, which the Asian country claims for itself.
“China will resolutely respond to any country’s deliberate provocations. We will continue to closely monitor the relevant seas and airspace, and take all necessary steps in accordance with the need,” the ministry said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also warned Washington not to “make trouble out of nothing” in the South China Sea.
China has repeatedly asserted its sovereignty over the South China Sea against similar claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Washington has sided with China’s rivals in the territorial dispute, with Beijing accusing the US of meddling in the regional issues and deliberately stirring up tensions in the South China Sea.