Sat, Oct 20, 2018 - Page 1 News List

China, SE Asia to hold maritime drill in S China Sea

AFP, SINGAPORE

Vietnamese Minister of National Defense General Ngo Xuan Lich, left, attends an ASEAN security summit in Singapore yesterday.

Photo: AFP

China and Southeast Asian states are to hold their first joint maritime exercises next week, officials said yesterday, in a move aimed at easing tensions that might spark US alarm.

Despite disagreements over Beijing’s territorial ambitions, China and Southeast Asia are trying to strike a more conciliatory tone in a bid to stop tensions from spiraling out of control.

As part of this, the navies of China and the 10-member ASEAN are set to hold their first joint drills, which are to take place in the South China Sea.

“As we speak, the navies of ASEAN are en route to Zhanjiang in China for the ASEAN-China Maritime Exercise,” Singaporean Minister of Defense Ng Eng Hen (黃永宏) said.

Making the announcement at a gathering of ASEAN defense ministers in Singapore, also attended by US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chinese Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe (魏鳳和), Ng said the drills would help to “build trust, confidence.”

The city of Zhanjiang is home to the South Sea Fleet of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

Tabletop exercises between ASEAN and China were held in Singapore in August to prepare for next week’s drills.

However, some observers see the exercise as part of efforts by China to diminish US influence in the region by forging closer ties with Washington’s traditional allies and partners.

In an apparent effort to lessen any such fears, Ng said that ASEAN was planning to hold maritime exercises with the US for the first time next year.

Mattis said that he did not believe the China-ASEAN drills would reduce US sway in the region.

“We do not see this as contrary to our interests,” he said. “If we can have that sort of activity going on, it’s transparent, something that’s been lacking in the South China Sea. Then that’s going to be working in the right direction.”

Hoang Thi Ha, a political analyst with the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said that next week’s exercises were aimed at “demonstrating that China and ASEAN are managing well their maritime problems.”

However, its significance should not be overstated, as it is a one-off drill in waters that are not disputed, she added.

“The US is not losing ground exactly, because ASEAN chooses to be open and inclusive,” she said.

The Southeast Asian defense ministers also agreed on guidelines to prevent unplanned encounters between their military aircraft, and are to propose them to other countries, including the US and China, at a meeting today, Ng said.

They are aimed at reducing the likelihood that a chance encounter could spiral into conflict in the case of a miscalculation.

At yesterday’s meeting, Mattis said that “no single nation can rewrite the international rules of the road, and we expect all nations — large and small — to respect those rules.”

Mattis on Thursday met with Wei on the sidelines of the gathering as they sought to normalize military relations that have dramatically soured over trade and sanctions tensions.

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