SYDNEY, 30 JUNE 2017 (EXPRESS) — Australia and the US began their biggest joint military exercise today aimed at sending a message of strength to China as army chief calls on troops to be “more lethal”.

The exercise involved 33,000 US and Australian troops on battleships with strike jets comes as tensions over China’s military assertiveness in the South China Sea.

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The US Pacific Command chief, Admiral Harry Harris, said: “This realistic and challenging exercise provided endless opportunities for our nations to innovatively prepare for regional and global security challenges.”

Admiral Harris called on the forces “to be faster, more precise, more cost-effective and most importantly, more lethal”.

This training comes amid rising tensions in the South China Sea with China increasing its naval activities in the region.

Admiral Harry Harris added: “I’m pleased about that message it sends our friends, allies, partners and potential adversaries.”

The relationship between the US and China has worsened in recent months.

The US has claimed that China has added more than 3,200 acres of land on seven reefs and tiny isles in the South China Sea over the past three years.

China has used this land for runways, ports, aircraft hangars and communications equipment.

The joint exercise is set to last a month

Australia, along with the US, has expressed concerns over Beijing’s aggressive claims to territories in the disputed South China Sea and its militarisation.

James Curran, professor of politics and foreign policy at the University of Sydney, said: “When there are concerns about China’s activities in the South China Sea, this military exercise will send a signal and take on greater significance.

US defence secretary warns China over South China Sea islands

“China will be concerned if it looks like containment, when you have Australia, the United States and others trying to gang-up on China.”

This joint exercise will last a month and takes place in Australian territorial waters…. PACNEWS [/restrict]