Australia and China will go ahead with a joint naval exercise in the South China Sea next week, despite Beijing's lingering anger at the United States for deploying a warship near a Chinese-built island in the contested waters.
The Royal Australian Navy will send two frigates to the southern Chinese port of Zhanjiang, where they will take part in a live firing drill with Chinese ships on Monday.
Defense Minister Marise Payne issued a statement saying Australia's navy "has a long history of engagement with regional navies and regularly conducts port visits and exercises — including in China."
The guided missile destroyer USS Lassen sailed within 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles) of the Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands archipelago on Tuesday in a challenge to China's territorial claims in the area.
USS Lassen (DDG 82) operates in international waters near the Chinese People's Liberation Army (Navy) Jianghu V-class frigate Dongguan (560) while on patrol in U.S. 7th Fleet at South China Sea, Sep 29, 2015.
Beijing launched a massive building project last year to transform the submerged reefs into islands that can support runways and other facilities, and has warned it will not allow any country to violate Spratly's airspace, ignoring competing claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and other Asian nations on the region.
The South China Sea is home to one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. The U.S. cited international law in maintaining its position that artificial reefs do not entitle a country to a territorial water claim. Australia voiced support for Washington's actions this week, but strictly on the grounds "freedom of navigation."