The US, Australia and Japan, along with eight other countries, have begun a joint exercise in Australia and nearby waters as tensions simmer in the Indo Pacific region.
The US and Australia kicked off their biennial Exercise Talisman Sabre on Wednesday. Defence forces from Japan, the UK, Canada, South Korea and New Zealand are also taking part in the drills, while India, Indonesia, Germany and France will participate as observers.
“The exercise will further strengthen our cooperation towards a free and open Indo-Pacific,”Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters Thursday.
The U.S., Japan, India and Australia have been promoting a rules-based order in the region through their Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or QUAD.
Japan is sending a Ground Self-defence Force unit specialising in remote island defence and tasked with the initial response to a contingency in the Nansei Islands, which include the Japan-administered Senkakus that are claimed by China as the Dioayu.
The GSDF will participate in a landing drill with U.S. and British marines and the Royal Australian Army.
“Amphibious manoeuvres are critical to defending the Nansei Islands, which is one of Japan’s top defence priorities,” GSDF Chief of Staff Gen. Yoshihide Yoshida said.
“Bolstering our tactical skills will strengthen our defence capabilities.”
The drills come at a time when the international focus is growing in Indo Pacific. Tensions are also escalating in Taiwan Strait.
Japan’s Defence Ministry called the Taiwan situation one of its top challenges, saying it must “pay close attention” to the Taiwan Strait “with a sense of crisis more than ever before,” in a white paper this week.
Meanwhile, a Chinese surveillance ship began sailing towards Australian waters ahead of the exercise, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported.
“We have been monitoring its approach to Australia for several days as part of Australia’s broader surveillance effort,”Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said of the ship.
Indo-Pacific region is largely viewed as an area comprising the Indian Ocean and the western and central Pacific Ocean, including the South China Sea.
China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and its efforts to advance into the Indian Ocean are seen to have challenged the established rules-based system.
The Taiwan Strait is a 180-kilometre-wide strait separating the island of Taiwan and continental Asia. It is one of the most heavily policed strips of water in the world.
The strait is in international waters, however, China claims Taiwan as its own territory and regards the US Navy’s presence in the area as a show of support for the island’s democratic government.