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.
(L-R) HMAS Stuart, Korea’s Chungmugong Yi Sunsin and Japan’s Ashigara pictured on Tuesday September 8, before the start of Exercise Pacific Vanguard
Regional alliances are building as the rise of China and its push into the Pacific alarms both Washington and the Indo-Pacific nations. Pictured: Chinese Communist Party members swear allegiance to China’s ruling party on June 28 in Yunnan Province
‘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 frigates HMAS Stuart and Arunta sail with warships from the US, Japan and the Republic of Korea in the western Pacific on Wednesday
Regional powers are training together, alarmed by China’s increasingly aggressive stance in the Pacific. Pictured: joint naval manoevres on Wednesday near Guam
Chinese President Xi Jinping reviews troops from a car during a military parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing
Activists burn a poster of Chinese President Xi Jinping in India in June. US Deputy Secretary of State said ‘The Quad’ could act as a bulwark against ‘a potential challenge from China’
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.
Government travel advice website Smartraveller (pictured) was updated on 7 July to warn Aussies they face the risk of arbitrary detention in China
China is responsible for 48.8 per cent of Australia’s export and the international body could reduce the national reliance on the communist body for trade. Pictured: A Chinese Navy member stands in front of a Shandong aircraft carrier
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.
Australia could join a trade organisation called ‘The Quad’ with the US, Japan and India following a proposal by the US government
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.
DFAT secretary says Australia must stand up to China
On Sunday, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Frances Adamson said it was now more important than ever to stand up to the Asian powerhouse.
‘Australia should, Australia must, Australia is, standing up for its interests because if we don’t we are on a very slippery slope,’ she told The Australian.
Ms Adamson said confronting China amid the coronavirus crisis had prompted Australia’s most difficult diplomatic challenge in a generation.
The former Australian ambassador in Beijing from 2011 to 2015 explained the Asian power was becoming more assertive.
‘We’ve seen China seeking to assert itself in this region, in the Indo-Pacific and globally, in ways that suits its interests but don’t suit the interests of countries like Australia,’ she said.
Ms Adamson said Australians wanted ‘a peaceful, stable, prosperous region’ and the government would not tolerate any interference with these ideals.
The ABC’s Bill Birtles at Sydney airport on Tuesday following his rush to leave China
Michael Smith (pictured) from the Australian Financial Review after leaving China
She warned that democratic institutions Australians take for granted, like the legal system and parliament, were ‘at stake’.
‘We need to make sure our institutions are strong and that we can defend ourselves. And this is where the role of diplomacy comes into play,’ Ms Adamson explained.
She said Australia needed to ‘take action’ to counter the ‘direct challenge’ posed by China’s assertion and aggression.
The DFAT secretary also said the narrow escape of two Australian journalists from China was the latest example of ‘difficult issues’ between the two countries.
Bill Birtles from the ABC and Michael Smith from the Australian Financial Review returned to Sydney on Tuesday after a five-day diplomatic stand-off.
Chinese police told the journalists they were people of interest after another Australian journalist and business anchor, Cheng Lei, was detained in Beijing.
Mr Birtles and Mr Smith sheltered in Australian diplomatic compounds for days as their travel rights were revoked.
Consular officials eventually secured safe passage back to Australia after the pair agreed to be interviewed.
The Australian government has advised all Australians not to travel to China, warning they could face arbitrary detention.
Daily Mail Australia has contacted DFAT for comment.