Two Australian warships will hold exercises with the Chinese navy in the South China Sea next week, Australia’s defense minister said Thursday.
The announcement comes two days after a US navy patrol angered Beijing by sailing near an artificial island built by China in disputed waters in the southern part of the sea.
The HMAS Stuart and HMAS Arunta will visit China’s main South China Sea base of Zhanjiang in Guangdong province before drills scheduled early next week, Marise Payne said.
“The Royal Australian Navy has a long history of engagement with regional navies and regularly conducts port visits and exercises — including in China,” Payne said in a statement.
“There have been no changes or delays to the schedule of the HMAS Arunta and HMAS Stuart since the United States activity in the South China Sea on 27 October 2015.”
The statement gave no details about the precise location of the exercises.
Australian media said the exercises would include live-fire drills, Reuters reported.
China rebuked Washington for sending a US guided-missile destroyer close to Subi Reef in the Spratly archipelago Tuesday, saying it had tracked and warned the USS Lassen.
Australia, a key US ally in the region, expressed its strong support for freedom of navigation, while stopping short of welcoming the patrol.
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