MANILA (UPDATE)— The US, UK and Japan again conducted military exercises in the Philippine Sea over the weekend, as tensions continue to linger in the Indo-Pacific Region.
The US Navy said Wednesday its carrier strike groups, led by flagships USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson, joined a UK Royal Navy's carrier strike group led by the 65,000-ton aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, and warships from Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces to conduct multiple carrier strike group operations in the Philippine Sea.
Navy frigates and personnel from New Zealand, the Netherlands and Canada also participated in the drills.
The US Navy said more than 15,000 sailors from the six countries took part in the activity.
The UK Royal Navy lauded the operations, which it described as "half a million tons of sea power projection from 6 nations with an equally impressive air wing."
The joint military operations in the Philippine Sea came nearly two months after the US, UK and Japan also conducted joint drills in the vicinity, and amid regional disputes between China and its regional neighbors, including the Philippines, over claims in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea, an important economic and strategic sub-region of the Indo-Pacific, has been a source of tension due to the military aggression of China in the resource-rich waters.
Even though a 2016 arbitral ruling nullified its expansive 9-dash line claim in the South China Sea, Beijing has built artificial islands and held missile launches in the vicinity.
China has been accused by the Philippines and Vietnam of harassing fishermen and conducting what the Southeast Asian countries deemed were illegal energy activities in the disputed waters.
The United States — a defense treaty partner of the Philippines — and its allies have been regularly conducting "freedom of navigation" operations in the South China Sea, which Beijing has reacted angrily to.
Last month, the US announced it will help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines as part of a new Indo-Pacific strategic alliance also including the UK. Dubbed the AUKUS, it will be part of Washington's growing focus on the region to counter China's growing influence, said a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Philippines has expressed support for the new defense partnership, saying it can maintain the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region.
— With a report from Reuters