An Australian Defence Force Joint Task Group transited the South China Sea independently, including near the Spratly Islands, en route to Hawaii for Exercise RIMPAC.
ADoD Press Statement, 24 July 2020: An Australian Defence Force Joint Task Group (HMA Ships Canberra, Hobart, Stuart, Arunta and Sirius) transited the South China Sea independently from 14-18 July, including near the Spratly Islands, en route to Hawaii for Exercise RIMPAC.
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. There was routine and professional naval communications.
The Joint Task Group’s transit in the South China Sea occurred in international waters in accordance with freedom of navigation rights under international law.
Background: On 21st July the ADF announced: Australia, Japan and the US are currently conducting a trilateral passage in the Philippine Sea on the way to participate in Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in Hawaii.
An Australian Defence Force (ADF) Joint Task Group has joined the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, which includes the United States Navy’s guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam and guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Akizuki-class destroyer JS Teruzuki. With HMA Ships Canberra, Hobart, Stuart, Arunta and Sirius taking part, the activity includes replenishment at sea, aviation operations, maritime manoeuvres and communications drills.
Commander of the Australian Joint Task Group, Commodore Michael Harris, said the opportunity to work alongside Japan and the US 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.”
Captain Sakano Yusuke, Commander of Japan’s Escort Division 4, said strengthening cooperation with the US Navy and Royal Australian Navy is vitally important for Japan and contributes to a free and open Indo-Pacific region. “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.
US Navy Captain Russ Caldwell, Commanding Officer USS Antietam, said the US 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 is fortunate to routinely operate alongside its allies across the Indo-Pacific and coordinated operations like these reinforce our mutual commitment to international maritime norms and promoting regional stability.”
The trilateral passage is planned to conclude on 23 July 2020. The Joint Task Group left Darwin on 5 July 2020 to begin a regional deployment to Southeast Asia and Hawaii. The deployment demonstrates Australia’s enduring commitment to enhancing security, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and increasing the capability and interoperability of the ADF.