China joins Australia’s largest maritime drills for 1st time amid South China Sea row

Chinese troops are taking part in Australia’s largest maritime exercise for the first time, despite recent tensions between the nations. They are among 3,000 personnel from 27 countries taking part in the drills.

The biennial naval operation, ‘Exercise Kakadu,’ is hosting 23 ships and submarines from across the Indo-Pacific region off the strategic northern port of Darwin with the aim of training the navies to cooperate effectively at sea.

The drills have been lauded as building understanding and trust between the nations, just months after Chinese, Australian and US navies were close to a stand-off over the disputed South China Sea.

In April, Australian vessels had a challenging encounter with China as it passed through the waterway, while in May the US reacted to what it describes as Beijing’s militarization of disputed areas there by expelling it from joint naval exercises off Hawaii.

Despite this, Australia stood by its invitation to China, which was originally issued last September, and the nation accepted. Britain was the only country to decline an invitation to take part in the drills this year.

China was previously an observer in the exercises but this time its naval frigate ‘Huangshan’ is seeing action. The vessel arrived in Darwin on August 30, the Chinese military reported.

Commander Anita Sellick of the Australian frigate HMAS Newcastle said two Royal Australian Navy sailors were accepted onto the ‘Huangshan’ during the drill.

“Two of our Australian Navy sailors are across actually, right now in the Chinese ship. So they’ve both been able to integrate within each other’s navy and learn a little bit of what life is like for them today in Exercise Kakadu,” Sellick told Reuters on Saturday.

The joint military practice, which consists of three phases, including a harbor phase, a force integration training, and a free-play phase, will continue until September 15.

The countries taking part in Exercise Kakadu are: China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, Cook Islands, Fiji, France, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, East Timor, Tonga, United Arab Emirates, US, Australia and Vietnam.

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