US Navy says maritime exercises with Asean not aimed vs China
MANILA, Philippines — The United States’ first maritime exercises with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) this week is not directly aimed at anyone nor in response to China’s activities in the South China Sea, a US Navy official said.
The five-day exercise, which kicked off Monday in Thailand, will be carried out by the 10-member Asean and US in the Gulf of Thailand to the South China Sea before it concludes in Singapore.
The drills come at a time of stepped-up US engagement in the region and tensions between Beijing and Southeast Asian nations over the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
“The exercise is not focused or dedicated against or towards anyone else. It’s to enhance the skills of ASEAN and the U.S. working together,” Rear Adm. Murray Joe Tynch, commander of US Navy’s Logistics Group in the Western Pacific, told reporters in a telephone briefing Tuesday.
The Philippines had sent one of its most capable warships, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS-16) for the exercises.
This is the first time that the Asean will be holding a joint exercise with the US as a regional bloc. Last year, Asean conducted maritime drills with China, despite conflicting interests with four Southeast Asian claimants over the South China Sea.
Tynch pointed out that that they have been engaging with Southeast Asian states in the past, but this particular exercise that involves Asean as a regional bloc sees a new level of “increased multilateral cooperation.”
“The challenges we face in the maritime domain extend beyond what any single nation can handle, and that’s where partners and allies are force multipliers for peace and interoperability,” he said. “That’s an unparalleled advantage that no competitor or rival can match. I fully believe we are stronger when we sail together.”
Over the next few days, Asean and US navies will together operate and execute a variety of realistic scenarios designed to reinforce interoperability in areas such as visit, board, search and seizure, maritime domain awareness, division tactics, and maritime asset tracking.
They are unfolding as a Chinese survey ship remains in waters claimed by Vietnam, prompting the Pentagon last week to accuse Beijing of efforts to “violate the rules-based international order throughout the Indo-Pacific.”
China claims almost the entire the South China Sea, often invoking its so-called nine-dash line as a supposed historic justification to the waters, which are a key global shipping route.
“The exercise is about building capacity of everyone, learning from each other, and building the relationships for all of us working here together,” Tynch said.
He also said the US will study if the exercises will be a regular occurrence.
“Once the exercise has been safely concluded, we’ll take a look and decide what the way ahead is… We’re focusing on completing what we have right now,” he noted.
“When we kicked this off, we gave the planners a challenge – that this AUMX was not going to be a symbolic event, that we needed an exercise that would provide value for each of the countries,” he further said. With Agence France-Presse
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