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    Ships from US, Australia and Japan Conduct Joint Drills in South China Sea in Defiance of Beijing

    Ships from US, Australia and Japan Conduct Joint Drills in South China Sea in Defiance of Beijing

    TAIPEI, Taiwan — Warships from the United States, Australia and Japan have held drills in the South Sea in defiance of Beijing, which claims sovereignty over virtually the entire strategic waterway.

    The U.S. 7th Fleet that oversees most U.S. Navy operations in the region said the guided-missile destroyer USS John Finn and combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords carried out operations with navy ships from Japan and Australia on Wednesday and Thursday.

    There was no word on whether the exercises were conducted close to islands and shoals claimed by Beijing, which has built bases on at least seven islands by piling concrete and sand on top of coral atolls. Beijing objects strongly to foreign naval operations in the area, saying historical records prove it belongs to China.

    Each year, an estimated $5 trillion in international commerce passes through the South China Sea, which also holds vital fish stocks and underwater mineral resources.

    The U.S. takes no formal stand on sovereignty in the area but rejects China's claims, partly based on a 2016 ruling by a United -backed court in The Hague. There was no immediate reaction to the exercises from China's Defense Ministry.

    “This multinational sail fortifies our relationship between the U.S., Japan and Australian allies,” Cmdr. Earvin Taylor, John Finn's commanding officer, said in a statement from the 7th Fleet. “We promote transparency, rule of law, freedom of…

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