Australia-U.S. military exercise begins with eye on China

Courtesy Anaid Banuelos Rodriguez/U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters
U.S. Marines assault amphibious vehicles depart the well deck of the USS Green Bay during Talisman Sabre 2019 off the coast of Bowen, Australia, on July 22, 2019.

JAKARTA — Australian and U.S. forces began their joint exercise Talisman Sabre in Australia and surrounding waters Wednesday, with an eye on expanding the alliance for keeping China in check.

The Australian Defence Force and U.S. military have held the exercise every two years since 2005 around the eastern coast of Australia as well as in the vicinity of places such as Hawaii.

“The exercise is the ADF’s largest bilateral training activity between Australia and the United States designed to strengthen our alliance and improve our combat readiness,” said the ADF’s director for the exercise, Air Commodore Stuart Bellingham, in a video released by the Australian military on July 5.

Japan, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea and the United Kingdom are participating in Talisman Sabre, while France, Germany, India and Indonesia are observing the exercise. In 2019, besides Australia and the United States, there were four participants and two observers, for a total of eight nations.

Long-standing issue

A spokesman for the Australian Defence Department told The Yomiuri Shimbun that the number of participating countries is the most in the history of Talisman Sabre.

Until the end of this month, a total of about 17,000 personnel are expected to be involved in training such as landing operations off the coast of Queensland and ground combat training envisioning a surprise attack at dawn.

With China in mind, Australia is aiming to make its presence felt in the Indo-Pacific region through security cooperation.

Australia aims to use the drills to strengthen its defense capability along the northern part of its Pacific coastline, a long-standing issue. The Royal Australian Navy’s capital ship the HMAS Brisbane guided missile destroyer is among the warships participating in Talisman Sabre.

Deteriorating relations

Relations between Australia and China deteriorated in April last year when the Australian government demanded that an investigation be conducted in China over the origins of the novel coronavirus. Beijing has continued to put blatant pressure on Canberra, including restricting imports of Australian coal and agricultural products.

Under these circumstances, Australia intends to expand the framework for keeping China in check based on cooperation with Washington, which has focused on allies and maintains a hard-line policy toward Beijing.

Australia is also concerned about China’s moves to win over South Pacific island nations with large amounts of economic aid and the construction of military bases.

In April, Canberra announced a plan to upgrade and expand four military exercise areas near Darwin in the north, a key security location, which is also used by a rotational force of U.S. Marines.

Australia is also working more closely with Japan, the United States and India under the Quad framework.

Bates Gill, a professor of security studies at Macquarie University in Sydney, said the joint drill will be a landmark exercise that embodies the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden’s determination to emphasize alliance-centered cooperation.

Joining forces

A sign of Europe’s increasing involvement in the Indo-Pacific region, eyeing the rise of China, is the fact that France and Germany are observers this year.

France, which has territories in the Pacific, conducted joint maritime drills in April with the member states of the Quad off the coast in the Bay of Bengal in India.

In June, Germany and Australia held a 2-plus-2 foreign and defense ministers’ meeting, sending a message to China over its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Brendan Nicholson of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute stressed that Talisman Sabre will demonstrate to China how allied nations are determined to join forces.

The Yomiuri Shimbun