Australian warships, planes and soldiers have begun annual joint military exercises with four strategic allies in the sensitive South China Sea region, but the Defence Force has denied the activity is aimed at sending a message to Beijing.
Around 400 Australian personnel are taking part in the three-week long “Exercise Bersama Lima” alongside counterparts from Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
The annual gathering for the Five Powers Defence Arrangement (FPDA) nations is being hosted by Singapore this year, and will soon include war games in the contested South China Sea.
Australia’s contribution includes the naval frigate HMAS Warramunga, 12 F/A-18A Hornets, an AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, an E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning, control and surveillance aircraft as well as ground troops from the Army’s Rifle Company Butterworth Infantry Platoon.
Royal Australian Air Force Wing Commander Greg Jervis said the exercise is not designed to respond to recent Chinese expansion in the region.
“Absolutely not, the Australian position in the South China Sea has always been consistent and clear,” Wing Commander Jervis told the ABC in an interview from the Butterworth Air Force base in Malaysia