The eight-ship fleet of more than 1500 sailors practised surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, live-fire exercises and joint manoeuvres in the waters off Guam, a US territory in Micronesia over the weekend.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said Exercise Pacific Vanguard had brought together four like-minded regional partners.
‘The increasing complexity of our security environment highlights the importance of maintaining and growing our regional partnerships,’ Ms Reynolds said in a statement.
‘Ours is a strong community built on shared interests, and activities like Exercise Pacific Vanguard increase our ability to contribute to the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific.’
Australia sent Anzac-class frigates HMAS Stuart, and Arunta, capable of air defence, surveillance and undersea warfare.
Australian Maritime Task Group Commander Phillipa Hay said it was important to practice complex war-fighting skills with regional partners.
‘Pacific Vanguard is an invaluable opportunity to increase the Royal Australian Navy’s understanding and experience working with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, Republic of Korea Navy and United States Navy,’ Captain Hay said.
The exercise is part of Australia’s ongoing Regional Presence Deployment in Southeast Asia and the Pacific region.
The US sent an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, the USS Barry, which are capable of strategic land strikes with Tomahawk missiles and have powerful radar and anti-aircraft capabilities.
The US also sent a Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine and fleet replenishment oiler USNS John Ericsson.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) sent the JS Ise, a Hyuga-class helicopter destroyer and the JS Ashigara, an Atago-class guided missile destroyer.
Captain Kitagawa Keizo, Escort Division Two Commander of the JMSDF said Japan was committed to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
South Korea sent destroyers Chungmugong Yi Sunsin and Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong.
The military exercise comes as the US builds alliances to keep international shipping lanes free and to counter Chinese expansion in the South Pacific.
Australia is also considering joining a regional trade alliance with India, Japan, and the US dubbed ‘The Quad’ which has the potential to reduce reliance on trade with China,as tensions between Canberra and Beijing reach new heights.
US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun has proposed the four-country grouping as a way of filling a trade power vacuum in the Indo-Pacific region.
He added Washington could eventually invite South Korea, Vietnam and New Zealand to join the alliance.
If Australia were to join the trade group it could lead to further souring in diplomatic relations with China, which has worsened since Scott Morrison’s proposal for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Amid a continuing war of words over Mr Morrison’s strengthening of Australia’s relationship with the US, the communist country has imposed harsh tariffs on Australian farmers – including an 80 per cent tax on barley.
Mr Biegun specifically named China as he laid out plans for ‘The Quad’ in a speech on August 31.
He said the group could act as a bulwark against ‘a potential challenge from China’ and resemble the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
‘The Indo-Pacific region is actually lacking in strong multilateral structures,’ Mr Biegun said.
‘They don’t have anything of the fortitude of Nato or the European Union.
‘The strongest institutions in Asia oftentimes are not inclusive enough and so … there is certainly an invitation there at some point to formalise a structure like this.’
China is Australia’s largest trade partner in terms of both imports and exports.
Figures released in August showed China’s share of Australian exports had reached 48.8 per cent – an all-time high – at a cost of $14.6billion.
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