Australia and China have conducted their first-ever joint naval exercise involving the firing of live ammunition. Ongoing tensions between China and the United States forced organizers not to invite American forces to take part in the military maneuvers.
The Australian frigate, HMAS Warramunga, participated in the first live-firing exercise of its kind with the Chinese navy off the Shandong Peninsular in the Yellow Sea in north-eastern China.
The vessel took part in the drill alongside the Chinese warship, the Louyang. Joint helicopter missions and search-and-rescue operations are also part of the joint maneuvers. Australian navy chiefs say the exercises are among the most complex ever conducted with Chinese forces. The naval officials say the presence of HMAS Warramunga and her crew highlights greater cooperation between Canberra and Beijing.
The vessel's senior officer, Commander Bruce Legge, said the war games were an effective way to build trust and friendship. He dismissed concerns that Australia's traditional military ally, the United States, was not invited to take part.
In a recent essay, defense analyst Hugh White of the Australian National University wrote that growing tensions between Washington and Beijing could harm Australia's prosperity.
"I'm contrasting the future we might be facing over the next few years and few decades with the remarkably good period we've had for the last 40 years, where U.S. uncontested primacy in the Asia-Pacific region has given Asia and Australia a really wonderful ride," said White. "And my fear is that if, as China grows, the U.S.-China relationship becomes more competitive, more contested, then we're going to find ourselves in a different kind of world in which the peace of Asia is not nearly so guaranteed and the economic opportunities for Australia, particularly our economic opportunities with China, might be more constricted."
Earlier this week two Chinese navy ships arrived in Sydney, where they were welcomed into the famous harbor by a naval band and lion dancers. The visit is part of an official program aimed at improving bilateral defense ties.
China is Australia's biggest trading partner. Chinese demand for raw materials helped protect the Australian economy from the ravages of the global recession. Analysts in Canberra believe the United States must remain Australia's principal military partner, a view held by most senior government figures.
Canberra and Washington remain bound by a long-standing security treaty that dates back to the early 1950s.