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US joined by Japanese, EU militaries for amphibious landing drills in Pacific

US joined by Japanese, EU militaries for amphibious landing drills in Pacific
American, British, Japanese and French troops are gathering on US islands in the Pacific for drills aimed at supporting the free passage of vessels in international waters. It comes amid fears that Beijing could restrict movement in the South China Sea.

The drills, scheduled for this weekend and next week, will take place around Guam and Tinian. They will include practice amphibious landings, delivering forces by helicopter and urban patrols, according to AP.

The exercises will be led by France, which has two ships participating in the drills – both of which are in the middle of a four-month deployment to the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

British helicopters and 70 troops have also been deployed with the French amphibious assault ship FS Mistral.

Part of the drills will include British helicopters taking US Marines ashore from a French ship.

Japan is also sending 50 soldiers and 160 sailors and landing craft to take part in the exercises. Tokyo, which has been investing in amphibious training so it can defend its own islands, fears Beijing might attempt to take over East China Sea outcrops which it also claims.

“The message we want to send is that we’re always ready to train and we’re always ready for the next crisis and humanitarian disaster wherever that may be,” US Marine Corps Lt. Col Kemper Jones, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment said.

Around 100 Marines from Jones' unit will be taking part in the military exercise.

The war games come amid fears that Beijing could attempt to restrict movement in the disputed South China Sea, most of which it lays claim to – despite conflicting claims from other Asian nations.

In an attempt to solidify those claims, Beijing has transformed seven mostly-submerged reefs into island outposts in recent years, some of which are equipped with radars, runways and weapons systems.

READ MORE: Joint US-S. Korea naval drills start in Sea of Japan amid tensions around Korean peninsula

Although China has said it will not interfere with freedom of navigation or overflight in the region, it remains unclear whether that vow includes military vessels and aircraft.

According to the NavyTimes, US operations under the Freedom of Navigation act have not taken place since Donald Trump took office, while being routine under the previous administration. 

The exercises also come amid heightened tensions between the US and North Korea, as the Trump administration continues to express its commitment to ending Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The islands of Guam and Tinian are located about 2,414km (1,500 miles) south of Tokyo, and are roughly equidistant to the east of Manila, the Philippines.