Australia joins U.S. ships in South China Sea amid rising tension

Australia joins U.S. ships in South China Sea amid rising tension

Top Stories | Apr 29, 2020:

Reuters

An Australian frigate has joined three U.S. warships in the South China Sea near an area where a Chinese vessel is suspected to be exploring for oil, near waters also claimed by Vietnam and Malaysia, officials said in late April 2020.

The warships arrived close to where the Chinese government survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 has been operating, which is in turn near where a vessel operated by Malaysia’s Petronas state oil company is conducting exploratory drilling, regional security sources  said.

The U.S. Navy said the USS America amphibious assault ship and the USS Bunker Hill, a guided missile cruiser, were operating in the South China Sea.

They were joined by Australia’s frigate HMAS Parramatta, pictured, and a third U.S. vessel, the destroyer USS Barry, as part of a joint exercise, the Australian Defense Department said.

“During the passage exercises, the ships honed interoperability between Australian and U.S. navies, including replenishment-at-sea, aviation operations, maritime maneuvers and communications drills,” it said in a statement.

The Haiyang Dizhi 8 was 325 kilometers off the Malaysian coast, within its exclusive economic zone, data from ship-tracking website Marine Traffic showed on April 22, 2020.

The ship, accompanied by a Chinese coast guard vessel, had been moving in a hash-shaped pattern consistent with a seismic survey for nearly a week, the data showed.

The area is near waters claimed by both Vietnam and Malaysia as well as the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The PRC claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea, within a U-shaped “nine-dash line” on its maps, which is not recognized by its neighbors.

Petronas and Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry have not commented on the situation, but the United States has called on the PRC to stop its “bullying behavior” in the South China Sea.

The PRC, however, has denied reports of a standoff, saying the Haiyang Dizhi 8 was conducting normal activities.

In 2019, Vietnamese vessels spent months shadowing the Haiyang Dizhi 8.

It appeared off Vietnam again recently, within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone. Vietnam said it was closely monitoring the situation.

The United States has accused China of pushing its presence in the South China Sea while other claimants are preoccupied with the coronavirus.

As recently as April 19, Vietnam protested after the PRC said it had established two administrative districts on the Paracel and Spratly islands in the disputed waters. Vietnam’s denouncement and condemnation followed news that the PRC was forming the so-called “Xisha District” and “Nansha District” on Vietnam’s Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) islands. The PRC has called Vietnam’s claims illegal.

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