TOKYO - A major multinational naval exercise led by the U.S. Navy started off Hawaii on Monday amid tensions between Washington and Beijing, but with the drill scaled back due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Japanese officials said.
A total of 10 countries including Japan and South Korea are taking part in the Rim of the Pacific exercise, down from 26 when it was previously held in 2018. While the drill usually lasts around a month, this year's exercise will be held until Aug. 31 and ground force training has been canceled.
The exercise, known as RIMPAC, is being held amid heightened tensions over China's rising assertiveness in the South China Sea, while Sino-U.S. ties are also tense over Beijing's military activities in and around the Taiwan Strait.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has been forging closer relations with the self-governed island, which has seen a deterioration in ties with China.
The exercise commenced despite challenges posed by the pandemic, including reported infections among U.S. Navy personnel.
"The growing security environment in the Pacific demands now more than ever that like-minded nations join forces to build trust and collective strength to ensure a continuing free and open Pacific for all nations," Adm. John Aquilino, commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in a statement.
Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force has dispatched the helicopter carrier Ise and the Aegis destroyer Ashigara for tactical training.
RIMPAC, which started in 1971 and has been held nearly every two years, is now regarded as the world's biggest multinational naval exercise. Japan's MSDF has taken part since 1980.