Australian Defence Force Deny Reports of Confrontation With Chinese Navy in South China Sea

By Victoria Kelly-Clark
Victoria Kelly-Clark
Victoria Kelly-Clark
Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.
July 24, 2020Updated: July 24, 2020

The Australian Defence Force has denied reports there was a confrontation with the Chinese navy in the South China Sea between July 14-18.

A defence spokesperson told the Epoch Times on July 24 that five Australian naval ships (the Canberra, Hobart, Stuart, Arunta, and Sirius) transited the South China Sea including near the Spratly Islands while en route to Hawaii for the annual Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) military exercises.

During the deployment, the naval vessels encountered only “routine and professional naval communication,” said the spokesperson.

“There was no confrontation. All interactions with foreign warships throughout the deployment were conducted in a safe and professional manner, as we would expect in response to vessels operating in international waters in accordance with international law,” the spokesperson said.

The ADF spokesperson also noted that the ADF Joint Task Group transit through the South China Sea occurred in international waters per the freedom of navigation rights under international law.

Trilateral Exercise With Japan and America

The ADF announced on July 21 that the HMA Ships Canberra, Hobart, Stuart, Arunta, and Sirius would be joining with USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group and Japanese Akizuki-class destroyer, the JS Teruzuki, to conduct a joint exercise in the Philippine Sea on their way to RIMPAC.

Commander of the Australian Joint Task Group, Commodore Michael Harris, said the opportunity to work alongside Japan and the United States was invaluable.

“Maintaining security and safety at sea requires navies to be able to cooperate seamlessly,” Commodore Harris said.

“The combined activities between our navies demonstrates a high degree of interoperability and capability between Australia, Japan, and the US,” he said.

The exercise is designed for the countries to practice replenishment at sea, aviation operations, maritime maneuvers, and communications drills.

“The trilateral passage contributes to a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” said Captain Sakano Yusuke.

“The experience in this exercise will give us tactical and operational advantages and make our friendships stronger, in addition to our regular joint exercises with both like-minded navies,” Captain Sakano said.

U.S. Navy Captain Russ Caldwell, Commanding Officer of the USS Antietam, said the U.S. Navy routinely exercised with regional partners, showing their shared commitment to regional stability and a free and open Indo-Pacific.

“The relationships we’ve developed enable us to meet at sea and immediately operate at an advanced level. This highlights the enduring nature of our alliances with Japan and Australia,” Captain Caldwell said.

The United States to Have A Bigger Presence in the Pacific

The Secretary of Defence Mark Esper has indicated that the United States will no longer tolerate the Chinese Communist Party’s bullying tactics in the Indo-Pacific.

Speaking at a conference for the International Institute of Strategic Studies (pdf), Esper said that the United States rejects the “PRC’s excessive and unlawful maritime claims that have been used to bully smaller countries from accessing offshore resources in their exclusive economic zones.”

Instead, Esper said America plans to conduct operations in the area that send a “clear and powerful signal” that the United States will “fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.”

“In 2019 we conducted the greatest number of freedom of navigation operations, FONOPS, in the South China Sea in the 40-year history of the FONOPS program, and we will keep up the pace this year,” said Esper

Esper also noted that earlier in July two carrier strike groups also conducted exercises in the South China Sea for the first time since 2012.