US, UK join Pacific allies in Fijian military exercise

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Canberra (Australia): A military exercise in Fiji involving the United States, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand ends this week as the traditional allies counter China’s growing influence in the region.

The 11-day Exercise Cartwheel in Fiji began September 12 and ends on Friday, the US Embassy in the Fijian capital, Suva, said on Wednesday in an email.

US Navy Cmdr. Victor Lange said the name of the exercise originated from Operation Cartwheel during World War II, in which the US fought alongside the militaries of Australia, New Zealand and Fiji — then a British colony — to neutralise the Japanese base at Rabaul in Papua New Guinea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said China had “no objection to normal defense cooperation among the countries concerned.”

“But the cooperation should not be directed at third parties,” Wang told reporters in Beijing.

The United States has promised greater engagement with the South Pacific after China and the Solomon Islands signed a bilateral security treaty in May that has raised concerns of a Chinese naval base being established in the region.

US Vice President Kamala Harris told a South Pacific leaders’ summit in Suva in July that the United States will open new embassies in Tonga and Kiribati. She also flagged a tripling of US funding for fisheries assistance to USD 60 million.

Australia’s new government, elected in May, is also taking steps to increase its engagement with its island neighbours.

The government plans to establish an Australia-Pacific Defence School to train neighbouring armies in response to China’s potential military presence on the Solomon Islands.

Australians were reminded on Wednesday of World War II coming to their shores when divers found what appeared to be an unexploded bomb off the coast of the northern city of Darwin.

Darwin became the first target of Japanese bombers on the Australian mainland in a devastating air raid on February 19, 1942.

A 250-metre (820-foot) exclusion zone has been established in Darwin Harbor until the Defence Department removes the suspected bomb.

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