The world’s largest naval drills RIMPAC, hosted by America in Hawaii, offer sailors an opportunity not only to hone their skills with friendly navies from across the world—including the chance to sink a clapped-out American warship as target practice—but also to cement alliances in a more bibulous and convivial fashion aboard one another’s destroyers, perhaps followed by after-parties in the insalubrious corners of Honolulu.
This year’s exercise, which runs from August 17th to 31st, will be a more abstemious affair. With Hawaii’s covid-count rising, social events ashore are cancelled and fewer countries are scheduled to attend.
Though the drills may be pared down, the stakes are higher than ever. With the relationship between America and China in apparent freefall, military tensions between the two rivals are growing across the so-called first island chain in the western Pacific, stretching from Malaysia in the south to Japan in the North.
In the South China Sea, for instance, China has tangled with the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia in recent months by harassing fishing boats, stalking others’ oil-exploration vessels and sending its own survey ships into disputed waters.
South China Sea Exercises
Meanwhile, a strike group, led by the USS Ronald Reagan, conducted flight operations and high-end maritime stability operations and exercises, the statement said.
“Integration with our joint partners is essential to ensuring joint force responsiveness and lethality, and maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific,” US Navy Commander Joshua Fagan, Task Force 70 air operations officer on board USS Ronald Reagan, was quoted as saying.
The drill comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and China. Washington has criticised Beijing over its coronavirus response and accuses it of taking advantage of the pandemic to push territorial claims in the South China Sea and elsewhere.
The US has long opposed China’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea and has sent warships regularly through the strategic waterway.
China has objected to such exercises and said the US rejection of its claims in the South China Sea has raised tension and undermined stability in the region.
China claims nine-tenths of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which some $3 trillion of trade passes a year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims.
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