U.S., Australian Navies Complete Joint Exercise in South China Sea; U.S. Captain Stresses Critical Importance of Shared Values

The U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet announced Friday (June 11) that the guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur and the Royal Australian Navy’s Anzac-class frigate USS Ballarat completed a week-long joint military exercise in the South China Sea that began June 6 and ended June 11.

In a statement, the U.S. Navy said, “These ships improved the advanced skills of the naval officers in a joint exercise environment, while also normalizing operations in the region in accordance with international law.”

Captain Anthony Massey of the destroyer Curtiss said, “I am extremely excited to be operating with our Australian allies and the servicemen and women aboard the Ballarat frigates. They share our values and interests.” Massey added, “Our close cooperation and mutual support demonstrates our continued unchanging commitment to maintaining freedom and openness in the Indo-Pacific region and to promoting regional security and prosperity.”

The U.S. Navy statement also described the specific items conducted in the exercise: the two warships conducted cross-deck helicopter exercises, live fire drills and joint maritime operations, among others. The statement said, “These exercises further strengthen the interoperability between the navies of the two allied nations and demonstrate the U.S. Navy’s commitment to synergize with partners in the region who share common values and maintain international order in the South China Sea.”

Commander Antony Pisani, commanding officer of the Australian frigate Ballarat, said he was pleased to participate in the cooperative exercise designed to strengthen the Australia-U.S. alliance.

He said, “This exercise builds on the strong partnership that has existed between the Australian and U.S. navies for a long time. It demonstrates our mutual commitment to the importance of building a secure and stable maritime environment and enhancing cross-regional cooperation between navies and navies.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin responded to the joint U.S.-Australian warship exercises in the South China Sea at a press conference Friday in a milder response than his previous “war wolf” style. Wang Wenbin said, “We hope that the countries concerned will do more to contribute to regional peace and stability instead of showing off force.”

The United States and countries surrounding the South China Sea have rejected China’s claims of sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea.

Australia has also expressed unease over China’s expanding military presence in the South China Sea region. China’s continued reclamation of islands and construction of military facilities in the Spratly Islands (Spratlys), where sovereignty is disputed, has caused great concern among neighboring countries. Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim sovereignty over parts of the region to varying degrees.

China, for its part, accuses U.S. naval activities in Southeast Asia of posing the greatest threat to the region’s security, especially as the U.S. military insists on “free navigation” near areas over which China claims sovereignty.

Beijing hosted a meeting of 10 ASEAN foreign ministers in Chongqing this week to allay the concerns of its neighbors. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at the meeting that China remains willing to sign the long-shelved guidelines for conflict prevention in the South China Sea.