BEIJING (AP) — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:
The U.S. and Australian militaries are joining for an annual anti-submarine exercise focused on ensuring freedom of navigation and the “free flow of commerce in the region.”
The 2019 Exercise Sea Dragon starts Monday at Andersen Air Force Base in the western-most U.S. territory of Guam, which is considered a tempting target for China or North Korea in the event of a conflict. Slated to run 11 days, the exercise is “an exciting opportunity to … focus on building anti-submarine warfare proficiency and increase warfighting lethality,” Capt. Brian Erickson, Commander of Task Force 72, was quoted as saying in a 7th Fleet news release.
“Exercise Sea Dragon illustrates that the U.S. and our partners stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows,” the 7th Fleet said.
Freedom of navigation operations are a key point of contention in the South China Sea, where the U.S. says it will sail and fly wherever international law allows. China interprets international law differently, and calls such missions dangerous and destabilizing, regularly dispatching aircraft and ships in response to them.
Units from the Royal Australian Air Force will join U.S. units throughout the exercise.