US joins India, Japan and Philippines for South China Sea sail



The U.S. on Wednesday finished a weeklong sail through the South China Sea with India, Japan and the Philippines, a region fraught with tension amid disputed territorial claims, according to a Navy statement Thursday.

The guided-missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence joined the Indian navy destroyer INS Kolkata and tanker INS Shakti; Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter carrier JS Izumo and destroyer JS Murasame; and Philippine navy patrol ship BRP Andres Bonifacio in international waters May 2-8.

The six vessels gathered “to train together and promote maritime cooperation throughout a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the Navy said in the statement.

The ships practiced “formation exercises, communication drills, passenger transfers and held a leadership exchange aboard JS Izumo” during the exercise, according to the statement.

The region is important to trade and rich in natural resources. Five nations — China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan — have overlapping claims to almost 70 reefs and islands in the South China Sea, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

The quadrilateral exercise follows a U.S. request in December that its Pacific allies boost their military presence in the South China Sea. China continues to claim and militarize reefs and islands in the region,contrary to a 2016 decision by a United Nations tribunal.