In a tweet published early on Wednesday morning, the US Navy confirmed three of its warships had transited the South China Sea “in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region”.
The Defence Department said “over the past few days”, the ANZAC-class frigate exercised with the US ships as they passed through the contested region.
“HMAS Parramatta has been undertaking an extended deployment throughout South and South-East Asia for the last two months, to help strengthen the stability and security of the region,” a Defence spokesperson said.
Defence experts believe Australia’s participation in the military drills alongside the US would have been planned months in advance.
But the show of force comes at a significant time, as other nations express growing concerns with China’s expansion in the region
The manoeuvring in the South China Sea was announced days after China bolstered its presence by setting up two administrative bodies on islands in the disputed water, dubbing the area “its youngest city”.
In March, Beijing also launched two new research stations on artificial reefs in territory claimed by the Philippines and others.
The Defence spokesperson said that during their time in the region, Australian and US forces went through exercises on the water together.
“During the passage exercises, the ships honed interoperability between Australian and US navies, including replenishment-at-sea, aviation operations, maritime manoeuvres and communications drills,” the spokesperson said.
The department also insisted “Australia has maintained a robust program of international engagement with countries in and around the South China Sea for decades”.
Despite the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic in January, Australian officials have been closely watching as Beijing ramps up its activities in the strategically important South China Sea.
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