Australia’s largest joint maritime exercise, involving more than 3,000 personnel from 27 countries, has started off the strategic northern port city of Darwin, with China participating for the first time.
The 2018 version of the large-scale biennial drill, dubbed Exercise Kakadu, kicked off on Saturday, hosting 23 ships and submarines from countries located across the Indo-Pacific region.
The drill’s declared aim is to enable participant nations to develop awareness in helping prevent conflict on the high seas and coordinate disaster relief efforts.
Two Royal Australian Navy sailors were accepted onto China’s naval frigate Huangshan during the multinational 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,” Commander Anita Sellick of the Australian frigate HMAS Newcastle told Reuters.
Integrating the People’s Liberation Army Navy into the military drill — with forces from the United States, Canada, and New Zealand — for the first time would be an opportunity for the countries and Beijing to improve their working relationships, which have been tense at times.
The joint military exercise, which will continue until September 15, is supported by the Royal Australian Air Force and involves 21 aircraft.
The participating countries in Exercise Kakadu 2018 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, the United Arab Emirates, the US, Australia, and Vietnam.
Relations between Australia and China hit a low after Canberra passed laws aimed at blunting what it called Chinese influence in its domestic affairs. The legislation was announced after then-senator Sam Dastyari resigned from the Australian parliament over his close ties to a Chinese-Australian businessman, who had allegedly donated large sums to both major political parties in Australia.
Canberra has also challenged China’s claims to sovereignty over the South China Sea. Australia has censured Beijing for reportedly building and militarizing man-made islands in the South China Sea.
Analysts say Australia’s invitation of China to the drill may prompt a thaw in relations.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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