China, Asean hold joint naval drills
BEIJING — China and seven members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have held their largest-ever joint maritime rescue exercise, signaling a lull in South China Sea tensions.
The drill on Tuesday simulated a collision between a Chinese passenger ship and a Cambodian cargo vessel off China’s Guangdong province.
The exercise involved about 1,000 rescuers aboard 20 ships and three helicopters, according to reports in Chinese state media late Tuesday.
China, Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Brunei took part, with Vietnam notably absent.
The exercise followed meetings between the Chinese and Singaporean defense ministers on the sidelines of the 11th Asean Defense Ministers’ Meeting in the Philippines last month.
China asserts sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea in the face of rival claims from its Southeast Asian neighbors including four Asean members.
It has rapidly reclaimed reefs, creating artificial islands capable of hosting military planes.
Disputes have sometimes spilled over into confrontations as vessels from the competing countries spar over fishing grounds and resource extraction.
But lately some have eased their opposition to China’s claims.
Vietnam, however, has continued to deliver sharp rebukes.
In June, a meeting between Vietnamese and Chinese generals over border issues was abruptly canceled, with both sides citing a sudden scheduling conflict.
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