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US, Japan, France, India and Australia to begin joint naval exercises

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US, Japan, France, India and Australia to begin joint naval exercises

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Photo: Reuters

France and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue nations (Quad)—US, Japan, India and Australia—will today begin two days of joint naval exercises in the South China Sea (SCS).

Led by France, the ‘La Perouse’ exercises will enhance interoperability between the participating navies in freedom of navigation operations. Today’s exercises come amidst palpable tensions in the SCS between China, the Quad and claimant states from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). At issue, China has used its unrecognised ‘nine-dash line’ to assert ownership over the majority of the SCS. ASEAN nations like the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia reject Beijing’s claim with their own claims while the Quad maintains that the SCS are international waters. France’s inclusions in the drills is not unique as Paris has long supported the Quad’s position on the SCS by regularly cooperating alongside the US in freedom of navigation operations.

Expect today’s exercises to commence as scheduled. However, with all parties loaded for bear, Beijing has pursued a strategy of passive-aggression through grey-zone activities—actions like the mass deployment of forces disguised as fishing or research vessels—making today’s drills useful for increasing cooperation, but unlikely to significantly alter the current entrenched SCS conflict in the short- to medium-term.

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