US, UK hold rare joint naval drills in South China Sea
SOUTH CHINA SEA — Reuters reports that the United States and Britain held their first joint drills in the South China Sea since Beijing built island bases in the disputed waters.
According to a US Navy press release, the Arleigh-Burke guided missile destroyer USS McCampbell and the Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll conducted joint operations in the South China Sea from January 11 to 16.
The two vessels reportedly carried out communication drills, combined maneuvers, and personnel exchange during the week 'to address common maritime security priorities.'
The USS McCampbell is based in Japan, while the HMS Argyll is on a tour of Asia.
According to a U.S. Navy spokesman, such drills have not been conducted in the South China Sea since at least 2010.
CNN reports that the move is expected to antagonize China, which lays claim to the entire area based on a nebulous nine-dash line.
This claim is contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan, who all have overlapping territorial claims based on geographical proximity.
The U.S. regularly holds freedom of navigation operations to challenge China's excessive maritime claims, such as when the USS McCampbell sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands earlier this month.
The British warship HMS Albion also sailed close to the Paracels last August, prompting Beijing to accuse London of engaging in "provocation."
In both instances, China responded to what they perceive as hostile gestures by deploying aircrafts and ships to challenge the vessels.
Chinese state media CCTV reported on January 8 that DF-26 ballistic missiles capable of targeting medium and large ships have been deployed to the northwest plateau.
An unidentified expert has been quoted in the report as noting that the deployment "served as a good reminder that China is capable of safeguarding its territory."
According to the Japan Times, the UK-US joint drill also comes on the heels of a trilateral anti-submarine warfare exercise on December 21 to 22, involving a U.S. navy submarine, the Royal Navy's HMS Argyll, and Japan's JS Izumo helicopter destroyer.
U.S. Navy, Royal Navy, CNN, Reuters, Japan Times