ARC21: Australia, Japan, France And USA Join Naval Exercises In The West Pacific

Royal Australian Navy’s Anzac-class frigate HMAS Parramatta (FFH 154) with US, French and Japanese forces off the coast of Kagoshima, Japan, May 14, 2021. Source: Royal Australian Navy

Beijing has lashed out at Australia for joining its allies in war games off Japan, threatening “its forces will be among the first to be hit”.

“Australia must not think it can hide from China if it provokes,” Song Zhongping, a Communist Party military commentator, told the Global Times.

Australia last week joined Japan, the United States and France in what has been described as their “first ever” joint military exercise.

Named joint training exercise Jeanne d’Arc 21 (ARC21 for short), the Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Parramatta joined French, Japanese and US warships in practising an amphibious assault, urban warfare and anti-aircraft defence between May 11 and 17.

Beijing declared the exercise to be so “insignificant” it didn’t need to react.

“China does not really need to react to the exercise, since it is only a show that has little military significance,” Mr Song said.

And ramped up its wolf warrior rhetoric.

Beijing dismissed France’s presence as simply doing the US a “favour” as it had no “core interests in the West Pacific”.

Japan was accused of an “outdated Cold War mindset and will only build divisions and confrontation”.

And “Australia’s military is too weak to be a worthy opponent of China, and if it dares to interfere in a military conflict, for example in the Taiwan Straits, its forces will be among the first to be hit,” Mr Song said.

War games had ‘no impact’ on Beijing

Beijing’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the manoeuvres had “no impact” on China.

“Does anyone really think this joint drill aimed at putting pressure on China would really frighten China?” she said. “This so-called joint drill has no impact at all on China. It only costs them fuel.”

Shortly afterwards, three Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ships passed through the Miyako Strait – between Japan’s Miyako and Okinawa islands.

This was a “routine escort task force” and not a “response to the joint military drill”, Communist Party-controlled state media insisted.

The Type 052D destroyer Nanjing, the Type 054A frigate Yangzhou and the Type 903A supply ship Gaoyouhu were making their way to the Gulf of Aden to join anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia.

“From a navigational point of view, it is very normal for vessels departing from Zhoushan to sail [eastwards] through the Miyako Strait on their way (westward) to the Arabian Sea,” the Global Times quoted an anonymous source as stating. “Japanese media have ulterior motives in hyping this regular escort mission as being related to the four-country exercise, which is designed to target China’s rightful moves in the East and South China seas, including those over the Diaoyu Islands and the island of Taiwan, which are Chinese territories.”

Not quite so routine was the unannounced Chinese “naval drills in three maritime areas amid US military threats”.

Gunboat diplomacy

The Chinese warships are due to arrive in the Gulf of Aden, between Yemen and Somalia, about the same time as the joint UK, US and Dutch task force centred on Britain’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth passes through the Suez Canal on their way to the South China Sea.

The seven-month voyage will see the multinational force joined by vessels from other countries as it makes port visits – including to Japan – throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

But France has already made its presence felt.

France “is the only European country with a permanent military presence in the Indo-Pacific region,” Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi told a press conference in Tokyo. “It is also a like-minded country that shares with Japan the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

“By strengthening co-operation between Japan, the United States and France, we’d like to improve further the tactics and skills of the Self-Defence Forces in defending remote island territories.”

Senator and former defence minister Alain Richard said France was increasingly concerned at “the public willingness of the Chinese government to use force to achieve some of its political goals in the region [and] confrontation with the neighbouring countries over the fate of different islands or rocks in the South China Sea. The change of behaviour of the Chinese authorities is destroying trust in them, by their own initiatives.”

The HMAS Parramatta is taking part in the joint exercises. Picture: Department of Defence Source: Royal Australian Navy

China claims military drill of ‘little significance’

The pointed reference to China’s island-grabbing ambitions was not lost on Beijing.

“The ongoing joint exercises by Japanese, US, French and Australian troops, claimed to “serve as a deterrent to China,” is only symbolic and of little military significance, as the drill was put together by participants that have different agenda or are too weak,” the Global Times proclaimed.

“The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) doesn’t even need to make pointed responses to the joint drill since it’s insignificant militarily.”

But it had also just reported a large-scale “joint cross-sea landing drill” involving PLA air, sea and land forces.

“The PLA demonstrated its amphibious landing capabilities to the Taiwan secessionists, and foreign forces who believe in the PLA’s lack of this ability, and regular, repeated drills like this will form a strong deterrent,” it stated.

And, as ARC21 wound up, the state-controlled CCTV network reported “live-fire drills across three theatre commands”.

It was “a comprehensive test of the overall operational capability of a naval formation in the context of actual combat”. It did not specify when the exercises took place. The last time such a large-scale event took place was in August last year.

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