Sat, Aug 04, 2018 - Page 1 News List

China, ASEAN hold first joint simulated ocean rescue drills

AP, SINGAPORE

Chinese and Southeast Asian naval forces have staged their first computer-simulated drills so they can jointly respond to emergencies and build trust amid long-seething disputes in the South China Sea.

The two-day exercises that ended yesterday involved more than 40 sailors from China and ASEAN. They worked on search-and-rescue scenarios following a mock ship collision.

The Singaporean Navy hosted the drills at a training center at Changi Naval Base, where officers coordinated their force deployments and helicopter landings on navy ships.

They monitored developments on three giant screens, including one showing the location of a collision between an oil tanker, which supposedly caught fire, and a passenger ship that sank and scattered people in the high seas.

It was a successful prelude to actual maneuvers at sea that are planned for October in China, Singaporean Navy Colonel Lim Yu Chuan said.

“The exercise is beneficial to promote military exchanges and cooperation between China and ASEAN member states, [and] to advance our mutual trust,” Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy Captain Liang Zhijia told reporters.

Organizers did not directly link the exercises to the territorial disputes, which escalated after China turned seven disputed reefs into artificial islands.

Some now resemble bases with buildings and weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, and have sparked protests, including from rival claimants.

Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines also have claims to all or parts of the South China Sea.

During an annual meeting of their foreign ministers in Singapore on Thursday, an agreement was announced on an initial draft of a “code of conduct”: a set of rules to discourage aggression and reduce chances of accidental clashes and miscalculations.

Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) called the draft the “biggest highlight” of the meeting.

“We believe that without any disturbances from the outside, COC [code of conduct] consultations will accelerate,” Wang said.

China has accused the US of meddling in an Asian dispute. The US military has deployed its massive aircraft carriers, other warships and fighter jets to patrol the disputed waters, including areas close to China’s artificial islands, in maneuvers Washington has said aim to promote freedom of navigation and overflight in the strategic waterway.

Other Asian and Western nations have weighed in on the territorial conflicts, calling for the rule of law to be upheld and the disputes to be resolved peacefully, and not by force or intimidation.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini expressed hopes that negotiations would lead to a legally binding code of conduct that would uphold international laws and principles like freedom of navigation.

“We have, I would say, political interest in the international principles, norms and laws to be respected,” Mogherini said in a lecture on the sidelines of ASEAN meetings in Singapore. “Secondly, we have an economic interest, because as you know, European goods travel the seas, including around Asia.”

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