US, Japan, Australia plan West Philippine Sea Sea drill

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TOKYO—The US, Japanese and Australian navies will Saturday hold a joint drill in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea)—most of which China claims as its maritime territory—Japan’s defense ministry said.

Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force will send destroyer Shimakaze to join a US Navy destroyer and a Royal Australian Navy patrol boat for communications training and other drills off Brunei, the defense ministry said Friday.

It will be their first joint military exercise in the West Philippine Sea, most of which an increasingly assertive China claims as its maritime territory, but where the Philippines and several other Southeast Asian nations have competing claims.

“The exercise is aimed at enhancing tactical skills of the Maritime Self-Defense Force and strengthening relations with the participating navies,” the ministry said in a statement.

Tensions in the strategic and resource-rich West Philippine Sea have escalated in recent weeks, with the Philippines and Vietnam voicing alarm at what they say are increasingly forceful Chinese actions there.

They include accusations of Chinese forces opening fire on Filipino fishermen, shadowing an oil exploration vessel employed by a Philippine firm, and putting up structures in areas claimed by the Philippines.

Vietnam voiced anger after a Chinese vessel in May cut the exploration cables of a Vietnamese survey ship.

The West Philippine Sea includes the Spratlys, a chain of islands believed to sit on vast mineral resources.

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