The United States and Britain have conducted their first joint naval drills in the South China Sea, as Washington seeks support from its allies in challenging Beijing’s claims to the disputed waters. US Navy guided missile destroyer USS McCampbell and Royal Navy frigate HMS Argyll conducted operations together in the South China Sea from Friday last week until Wednesday, the two countries said. The US said the two vessels had practised communication drills, division tactics, and a personnel exchange designed to address common maritime security priorities and enhance interoperability. “We routinely train with regional allies and partners, but it is a rare opportunity for my team to work with the Royal Navy,” Allison Christy, the McCampbell’s commanding officer, said in a US Navy statement. Vietnam walks fine line with Beijing over South China Sea remarks “Professional engagement with our British counterparts allows us the opportunity to build upon our existing strong relationships and learn from each other.” Argyll’s commanding officer Toby Shaughnessy said the Royal Navy was “pleased with the opportunity to train alongside our closest ally”. Earlier this month the McCampbell passed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands – which are claimed by mainland China, Vietnam and Taiwan – in what the US Navy described as a freedom of navigation exercise designed to “challenge excessive maritime claims”. Last August a British amphibious assault vessel, the HMS Albion, sailed close to the same island chain. The following month a US and Chinese warship came within metres of colliding off the Spratly chain. The past year has a seen an increasing number of exercises by other US allies in the South China Sea, including a Japanese drill in September that involved a submarine, two destroyers and a helicopter carrier. In late May, the French assault ship Dixmude and a frigate sailed through the Spratly Islands and around a group of reefs that China has turned into islets, pushing back against Beijing’s claim to own most of the resource-rich waters. China won’t tolerate interference in Taiwan, military chief warns US In April, two Australian frigates and an oil replenishment ship were “challenged” by the Chinese as the vessels were sailing to Vietnam, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported. Jinan University Southeast Asian affairs specialist Zhang Mingliang said that both the US and Britain would deny that the exercises were aimed at any nation, but it was an unequivocal message to China. “The US and Britain are protesting against China’s policies in the South China Sea,” Zhang said. He said China would undoubtedly see it as a way of applying pressure and would publicly criticise the move. Xu Liping, a Southeast Asian studies expert at the China Academy of Social Sciences, said the joint naval drills by the US and Britain may not be directly targeted China, but were intended to show their military capabilities.