South China Sea: US and Japan hold joint drills in show of force – China are YOU watching?

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The USS Gabrielle Giffords and Japan’s JS Kashim and Shimayuki met at sea on June 23 where they reportedly practiced and enhanced bilateral interoperability between the two navies. In April Gabrielle Giffords sailed with JS Teruzuki in the Andaman Sea.

Rear Admiral Fred Kacher, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 7, said: “The opportunity to operate with our friends and allies at sea is incredibly important for our combined readiness and partnership.

“Executing complex maritime skills with our Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) allies allows both of our teams to build on our interoperability and readiness as we maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Some of the training exercises included division tactics to practice precision manoeuvring and a photo exercise.

Commander Dustin T Lonero, commanding officer of Gabrielle Giffords Blue Crew, added: “This exercise is particularly valuable since we are operating with JMSDF trainees; they are the future maritime professionals that our sailors will eventually operate with for years to come.

“Each exercise gets easier, while increasing in complexity, showing that both of our navies are sharpening our maritime practices with like-minded professionals in the open ocean.”

The overseas training two reportedly for newly commissioned officers and the primary objective is to promote seamanship through the various exercises.

Rear Admiral Yagi Kouji, commander of JMSDF Training Squadron, said: “The JMSDF newly commissioned officers not only promoted their basic seamanship skill but learned the importance of improving the interoperability between JMSDF and United States Navy.

“I also hope that the newly commissioned officers understand that the bilateral exercises we did today strengthen partnership with the US Navy and the partnership would form the basis of promoting security and stability in the region.

“I appreciate the opportunity for this bilateral exercise with Gabrielle Giffords.”

The South China Sea region is a highly contested territory where it faces rival ownership claims from China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan.

Diplomatic relations between the nations, which have laid claim to the islands, are already extremely strained.

The recent construction of bunkers on some of the atolls point to China preparing to “protection against air or missile strikes”, raising the prospect of a conflict which could spark World War 3.

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The islands and surrounding reefs have been the subject of a bitter and long-running territorial dispute, with China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines all laying claim to parts of the archipelago.

This week, Taiwan deployed marines to the Pratas Islands amid reports China will conduct drills in the area.

According to a Ministry of National Defense (MND) official, a number of Taiwanese marines have been deployed to the region as a training mission. China is reportedly planning large-scale beach landing exercises on the islands.

The source told Focus Taiwan the mission is aimed at strengthening the defence capabilities as well as improving logistical and equipment maintenance skills of the Taiwanese Coast Guard officers.

However, no more information about the number of marines deployed or how long they will stay were revealed.

Relations between the US and China have also become strained over recent weeks due to military action in the region.

Last month, Independence-class US Navy littoral combat ships were spotted patrolling the much-disputed region.

The US Air Force and Marines conducted training exercises in the area with three submarines joining ships and aircrafts in the nearby Philippine Sea.

The actions are thought to be a reaction to Chinese harassment of ships drilling for resources in nearby waters.

Back in April, three US ships joined the Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Parramatta and sailed to the region to demonstrate a commitment to keeping the sea open.

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