China, SE Asian states hold simulated naval drill

By AFP   August 3, 2018 | 07:11 pm PT
China, SE Asian states hold simulated naval drill
Ships from a China fleet take part in a drill in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. Photo by AFP
China and Southeast Asian states held simulated naval exercises this week for the first time, Singapore says.

The "table-top" exercises at a Singapore naval base, held as the participants seek to lower long-running tensions in disputed waters, came ahead of the first naval drills between the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Beijing, scheduled for October, Singapore said Friday.

China claims nearly all the strategically vital South China Sea, including waters approaching the coasts of ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Vietnam calls the waters the East Sea and has repeatedly declared its sovereignty rights over the area, based on legal and historical evidence.

China has been constructing artificial islands capable of hosting military bases in the waters, ratcheting up tensions with rival claimants and the U.S., the traditionally dominant naval power in the area.

The simulated drill was held Thursday and Friday, Singapore's defense ministry said in a statement.

It was timed to coincide with a series of ASEAN-led meetings in the city-state this week, including a security forum on Saturday at which U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be seeking to reassure Asian allies of continued American commitment to the region.

Washington has traditionally backed Beijing's rival claimants in South China Sea disputes and has stepped up naval patrols in the waters, angering China.

Chinese and ASEAN navies developed plans for the October field drills, including how to deal with maritime incidents like search and rescue and medical evacuation, Singapore's defense ministry said in a statement.

It also involved plans on approaching a distressed vessel, the statement said.

"This table-top exercise has been a good first step for navies from ASEAN countries and China to work together to deal with maritime incidents at sea," said Colonel Lim Yu Chuan, a senior Singapore naval officer and exercise co-director.

Captain Liang Zhijia of the Chinese navy said the simulated and field drills are good platforms to build trust and confidence.

China and ASEAN this week announced they had agreed on a draft negotiating text as part of efforts to forge a code of conduct to govern behavior in the South China Sea.

The draft however showed that Beijing wanted to stage military drills with ASEAN in the seas that excluded outside countries, a move analysts said was aimed at diminishing U.S. influence.

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