Washington, July 8: To sternly counter China in South China Sea, The defence ministers of Australia, Japan, United States has reinforced strong opposition to the use of force or coercion to alter the status quo of the region, and called on to uphold the freedom of navigation and overflight.
Australian Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds, Japanese Minister of Defense KONO Taro, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper convened a virtual trilateral defense ministerial meeting on July 7.
Concerned about the recent incidents, including the continued militarization of disputed features, dangerous or coercive use of coast guard vessels and “maritime militia”, the leaders of three countries said no country can disrupt other countries’ resource exploitation activities.
They emphasized the importance of peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, in particular as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and called for all countries in the region to take meaningful steps to ease tension and build trust.
The ministers also called “for any Code of Conduct in the South China Sea to be consistent with existing international law, in particular as reflected in UNCLOS; not to prejudice the interests of third parties or the rights of any State under international law; and to reinforce existing inclusive regional architecture”.
This comes after USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan along with their accompanying vessels and aircraft conducted exercises “designed to maximize air defense capabilities, and extend the reach of long-range precision maritime strikes from carrier-based aircraft in a rapidly evolving area of operations.”
The Nimitz and Ronald Reagan strike groups conducted several exercises and operations to strengthen warfighting readiness and proficiency in an all-domain environment. Integrated operations included air defense exercises, tactical maneuvering drills, simulated long-range maritime strike scenarios, and coordinated air and surface exercises to maintain combat readiness and maritime superiority.Our forces provide combatant commanders with significant operational flexibility to respond to regional contingencies.”
Captain Michael Rovenolt, commanding officer of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, said, “Working together with another Carrier Air Wing provides advanced opportunities for our squadrons to conduct high-end training, and increase our warfighting readiness…Our forces provide combatant commanders with significant operational flexibility to respond to regional contingencies.”
Working together with the Ronald Reagan carrier strike group provides advanced, high-end training opportunities that increase our warfighting readiness,” said Capt. Todd Cimicata, Commander, Carrier Air Wing 17.
In reference to the 2019 Australia-Japan-United States Trilateral Strategic Action Agenda, the ministers directed their respective officials to continue to pursue avenues for practical engagement, cooperation, and interoperability in a time of geostrategic change.
This joint statement by trilateral countries provides an impetus to the joint statement issued by the members of the ASEAN bloc expressing concerns over the current situation in the South China Sea.
The ASEAN leaders stressed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation and over-flight above the South China Sea, as well as upholding international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, in the South China Sea, working actively towards the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety.
US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo had said that the US has sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General to protest China’s “unlawful South China Sea maritime claims”.
Defence Ministers also agreed to coordinate to ensure to deter destabilizing or coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions in the East China Sea.
The ministers underlined the instrumental role of ASEAN in facilitating regional dialogue and establishing norms of behavior that support stability, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, and recognized the importance of supporting partners in South and South East Asia.
The ministers emphasized their ongoing support for ASEAN centrality as a key contributor to regional security and prosperity.
By Arti Bali
Sr Journalist (International Affairs)