The United States, Japan, Australia and the Philippines will conduct military exercises in the South China Sea

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The United States, Japan, Australia and the Philippines will hold their first joint naval exercises, including anti-submarine warfare training, in a show of force Sunday in the South China Sea, where Beijing’s aggressive moves to assert His territorial claims have caused alarm.

The four treaty allies and security partners are conducting exercises to safeguard “the rule of law that is the foundation of a peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific region” and defend freedom of navigation and overflight, they said in a joint statement issued by his defense. bosses on Saturday.

China was not mentioned by name in the statement, but the four countries reaffirmed their position that a 2016 international arbitration awardwhich invalidated China’s extensive claims on historical grounds, was final and legally binding.

China has refused to participate in the arbitration, rejected the ruling and continues to challenge it. The Philippines took its disputes with China to international arbitration in 2013 after a tense maritime standoff.

There was no immediate comment from China.

Last year, the Chinese Foreign Ministry warned against Military exercises involving the United States. and its allies in the disputed waters, harming their security and territorial interests.

“We support all nations in safeguarding the international order based on the rule of law, which is the foundation of a peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific region,” the four nations said, but did not provide specific details of the military exercises, called the Maritime Cooperative Activity.

Japan said in a statement issued by its embassy in Manila that it would deploy its destroyer, the JS Akebono, for the South China Sea exercises, which would include anti-submarine warfare training and other military maneuvers.

“Japan believes that the issue regarding the South China Sea is directly related to the peace and stability of the region and is a legitimate concern of the international community, including Japan, Australia, the Philippines and the United States,” said the Defense Minister from Japan, Minoru Kihara. he said in the statement.

“Japan opposes any unilateral change of the status quo by force, such attempts and any action that increases tensions in the South China Sea,” he said.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a separate statement that the exercises “underscore our shared commitment to ensuring that all countries are free to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said “respect for national sovereignty and agreed rules and norms based on international law underpin the stability of our region.” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said Sunday’s military exercises would be the first in a series of activities to develop the Philippines’ “individual and collective self-defense capability.”

In addition to China and the Philippines, long-running disputes in the South China Sea, a key global trade route, also involve Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. But skirmishes between Beijing and Manila have particularly flared since last year.

Washington does not claim the strategic sea route, but has repeatedly He warned that he is obligated to defend his former treaty ally, the Philippines. if Philippine forces, ships and aircraft come under armed attack, including in the South China Sea.

China has warned the United States not to intervene in the disputes, which have raised fears of an escalation into a larger conflict that could involve the two world powers.

Japan has separate territorial disputes with China over Islands of the East China Sea. Rising tensions in the disputed waters would be high on the agenda when President Joe Biden hosts his Japanese and Filipino counterparts for a meeting. summit at the White House next week.

In the latest hostilities last month, the Chinese coast guard used water cannons that injured a Philippine admiral and four members of his navy and severely damaged their wooden supply ship near the Second Thomas Bank. The cannon blast was so strong that it threw a crewman off the ground, but he crashed into a wall instead of sinking into the sea, Philippine military officials said.

The Philippine government summoned a diplomat from the Chinese embassy in Manila to convey its “strongest protest” against China. Beijing accused the Philippine ships of encroaching on Chinese territorial waters, warned Manila not to “play with fire” and said China would continue to take steps to defend its sovereignty.

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