US, Philippines, Japan, and Australia Conduct First Joint Military Exercise in South China Sea

China launched patrols in the South China Sea in response

The US, Japan, the Philippines, and Australia conducted joint military exercises in the South China Sea on Sunday in a provocative show of force aimed at China.

According to Japan’s Kyodo News, the drills marked the first “full-scale exercise” between the four nations. The US has been looking to increase military cooperation between its treaty allies in the region as part of its military build-up to prepare for a future war with China.

The four countries released a joint statement that made clear the drills were meant to push back on China’s claims to the South China Sea. “We stand with all nations in safeguarding the international order based on the rule of law that is the foundation for a peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific region,” the statement said.

According to The South China Morning Post, the drills included two Philippine vessels, one American ship, one Australian ship, and a Japanese ship and focused on anti-submarine warfare training, tactical exercises, and photo exercises.

China launched patrols in the South China Sea on the same day in what appeared to be a response to the drill. “The Southern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army will conduct a joint air and sea combat patrol in the South China Sea on April 7,” the Chinese military’s Southern Theater Command said.

The joint drills come as tensions are soaring between China and the Philippines over disputed rocks and reefs in the South China Sea. Chinese and Philippine vessels frequently have tense encounters in the waters, which often end in collision. In the most recent incident, a Chinese vessel fired a water cannon at a Philippine supply boat, injuring several crew members.

The incidents in the South China Sea could potentially spark a major war as the US has repeatedly affirmed that the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty applies to attacks on Philippine vessels in the disputed waters.

President Biden is hosting Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Washington this Thursday for the first-ever trilateral summit between the three nations. They’re expected to announce the launch of regular joint patrols in the South China Sea.

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.