Defense Chiefs Meet in Hawaii to Discuss Cooperation in the South China Sea

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Defense Chiefs Meet in Hawaii to Discuss Cooperation in the South China Sea

Defense Chiefs Meet in Hawaii to Discuss Cooperation in the South China Sea

Defense chiefs from the United States, Australia, Japan, and the Philippines met in Hawaii on May 2nd for their second-ever joint meeting. The meeting focused on deepening cooperation among the four nations amid concerns about China's activities in the South China Sea.

The meeting followed joint naval exercises conducted by the four countries in the South China Sea last month. This major shipping route has been the subject of long-standing territorial disputes between China and several Southeast Asian nations. China's recent assertiveness in the region has caused alarm.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stated that the drills enhanced the nations' ability to collaborate, build stronger bonds between their forces, and emphasize their shared commitment to international law in the waterway.

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles announced that the defense chiefs discussed increasing the frequency of their joint military exercises. He emphasized that the meetings sent a significant message to the region and the world about the four democracies' commitment to the global rules-based order.

The defense chiefs from the four nations held their first meeting in Singapore last year. The U.S. has longstanding defense treaties with all three nations.

The U.S. does not claim any territory in the South China Sea, but it has deployed Navy ships and fighter jets in what it calls freedom of navigation operations. These operations challenge China's claims to virtually the entire waterway. The U.S. maintains that freedom of navigation and overflight in the waters is in its national interest.

In addition to China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei also have overlapping claims in the resource-rich sea. Beijing has refused to recognize a 2016 international arbitration ruling that invalidated its expansive claims on historical grounds.

Skirmishes between China and the Philippines have escalated since last year. Earlier this week, Chinese coast guard ships fired water cannons at two Philippine patrol vessels off Scarborough Shoal, damaging both vessels.

These repeated high-seas confrontations have raised concerns about a larger conflict that could potentially pit China and the United States against each other. The U.S. has repeatedly warned that it is obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if Filipino forces, ships, or aircraft come under armed attack, including in the South China Sea.

President Joe Biden's administration has stated its intention to build a "latticework" of alliances in the Indo-Pacific region, even as the U.S. grapples with the ongoing conflicts in Israel-Hamas and Russia-Ukraine.

China claims that the strengthening of U.S. alliances in Asia is aimed at containing China and threatens regional stability.