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What role does the ADF play in the South China Sea?

What role does the Australian Defence Force play in the South China Sea?"

Since February 1981, Operation Gateway has been focused on protecting Australian interests in the South China Sea. During the Cold War, the forces under Operation Gateway monitored Soviet ships and submarines in that area. Once that conflict ended, the mission shifted to more general protection.

What is the current situation in the South China Sea, and how is the Australian Defence Force (ADF) engaging it?

Territorial disputes between regional powers

One-third of all seafaring activity and US$5.3 trillion worth of trade moves through the South China Sea each year.

Disagreements over international borders are particularly problematic in the South China Sea given the strategic importance of the region for global commerce. According to the National Press Club, one-third of all seafaring activity and US$5.3 trillion worth of trade moves through the area each year.

Much of these disputes spring from competing claims over islands in the area and the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) - which extend 200 nautical miles from a nation's coast - of bordering countries. Currently, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam all have competing claims over islands in the South China Sea, particularly the Paracel and Spratly Islands, according to the Lowy Institute. 

Australia and freedom of navigation

Further complicating matters is China's claim over all of the 230 bodies of land that make up the Spratly Island network, which overlaps with the EEZs of neighbouring countries, as well as boundaries established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). 

Under Operation Gateway, the ADF carries out patrols in these disputed areas. One such patrol issued a brief communication with a Chinese vessel, according to a radio transmission reported by the BBC.

"China Navy, China Navy. We are an Australian aircraft exercising international freedom of navigation rights in international airspace, in accordance with the international civil aviation convention and the united nations convention of the law of the sea," the operator says.

A RAAF AP-3C Orion made a transmission to Chinese vessels during a patrol in the South China Sea.A RAAF AP-3C Orion made a transmission to Chinese vessels during a patrol in the South China Sea.

A spokesperson from the Department of Defence confirmed that an RAAF AP-3C Orion was conducting a patrol of the area at the time of the transmission. 

As tensions mount between powers in the region, it is likely that Operation Gateway will continue to play a role in the stability of the South China Sea.

Interconnect Systems has a comprehensive background in aerospace and defence engineering, being an industry leader for more than 20 years. It provides electrical interconnect products and solutions, including cable and wire harness manufacture. For more information on the best backshells and cable harness solutions, contact Interconnect Systems today on 1800 812 214 FREE.

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