South China Sea FURY: World’s largest naval exercise deepens US tensions with China

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The US navy have said the exercises are strengthening alliances to “ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific”. The countries participating have raised concerns about China’s attempts to push its control over waterways and critical routes.

Australia, Japan, the Philippines and India have taken part in the naval exercises.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) event has been scaled down from 25 to 11 nations.

The biennial event has about 20 ships and 5,300 personnel involved.

The drills have been reduced from the normal five weeks to two.

But the exercises have increased tensions with Beijing who were not invited to take part in the event.

China did participate in 2016 and 2014.

In 2018, Donald Trump disinvited China accusing it of militarising disputed areas of the South China Sea.

China has blasted the US in the run up to RIMPAC.

Chinese state media accused Washington of flexing its military muscle and “strongarm” allies to join the event.

The Global Times said: “The US can test its partners in the RIMPAC but when it comes to a real battlefield, will the US still be able to assemble that many allies?”

The state-run paper berated America for ignoring a petition signed by Hawaiian citizens asking to call off the event amid coronavirus fears.

China has been increasing its own force in the Indo-Pacific region.

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It carried out drills both in the South China Sea and in waters near Taiwan.

Beijing has claimed that Taiwan is its own and seeks to annex the US ally.

Experts have warned that the Indo-Pacific region is heading towards a dangerous crisis.

Both Kurt Campbell, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and the Pacific and Ali Wyne from the Atlantic Council, said eroding ties between the US and China have made the tensions “even more conducive to inadvertent escalation”.

Dr William Choong, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said: “You can’t divorce China and RIMPAC from the broader tensions in the Sino-US relationship.”

He added: “It looks like the Chinese are getting increasingly impatient, although I think that it’s an action reaction cycle that you see between the Americans and the Chinese – you can’t really ascertain who started this in a sense.”

He said the situation between the US and China was “worrying”.

He added how compared to other regional disputes, “the balance of power has quite significantly shifted towards the Chinese side, in terms of the capabilities that the Chinese are able to bring to the table, which are significantly larger.”

This comes as the US and South Korea begin their annual joint military exercise this week.

The drills are also scaled back due to the coronavirus pandemic with mainly computer-simulated war scenarios.

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