China and Asean plan navy drills to ease tension

Singapore: China and South-East Asian states will hold their first joint maritime exercises next week, officials said, in a move aimed at easing tensions but which may spark US alarm.

Beijing’s expansive claims to the South China Sea have long been a source of friction with rival claimants in South-East Asia, as well as the United States, which has traditionally been the dominant naval power in the area.

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

As part of this effort, the navies of China and the 10-member Associa­tion of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are set to hold their first joint drills, which will 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,” Singapore defence minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday.

Making the announcement at a gathering of Asean defence ministers, also attended by US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and his Chinese counterpart, Ng said the drills would help to “build trust, confidence”.

But US officials may be alarmed that traditional allies in South-East Asia appear to be drawing closer to China, at a time when concern is already growing in Asia about US commitment to the region under President Donald Trump. — AFP

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