China-Australia relations

Chinese troops, frigate join Australia’s largest maritime drill for first time

Commander of the Australian Fleet says there are mutual benefits in building understanding and trust during the exercise

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 September, 2018, 2:37pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 9:41pm

China is taking part for the first time in Australia’s largest maritime exercise as more than 3,000 personnel from 27 countries engage in joint training off the strategic northern port of Darwin.

Exercise Kakadu is hosting 23 ships and submarines from across the Indo-Pacific region, enabling them to establish familiarity which helps to prevent conflict on the high seas and to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

Commander Anita Sellick of the Australian frigate HMAS Newcastle said two Royal Australian Navy sailors were accepted onto China’s naval frigate 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 said on Saturday.

The Huangshan arrived in Darwin on August 30, an official Chinese military news outlet reported earlier.

Commander of the Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Jonathan Mead, said on Friday that there were mutual benefits in building understanding and trust during the exercise.

The joint military practice, which runs until Saturday, is supported by the Royal Australian Air Force and involves 21 aircraft.

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Darwin is Australia’s most strategically important city and has been home to a contingent of US Marines since 2011, making it the logical place for the exercise.

Integrating the PLA Navy into the biennial training with American, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian forces for the first time has given China an opportunity to improve its working relationship with those countries, which has been tense at times.

In April, three Australian warships had a challenging encounter with China as they passed through the South China Sea. Then in May, the United States disinvited China from joint naval exercises off Hawaii in response to what it called Beijing’s militarisation of disputed areas of the South China Sea, an allegation Beijing rejects.

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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.