China and Southeast Asian nations will hold their first joint maritime exercises next week in a move aimed at easing tensions in the region. But the announcement on Friday will alarm the United States.
Beijing’s expansive claims to the South China Sea have long been a source of friction in Southeast Asia, as well as Washington, which has traditionally been the dominant naval power in the area.
Despite disagreements over Beijing’s territorial ambitions, China is trying to strike a more conciliatory tone in an effort to stop a new cold war erupting in the region.
As part of this, 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,” Singaporean Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen said.
The decision was made at a gathering of ASEAN defense ministers in Singapore.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was also there.
Indeed, US officials may be alarmed that traditional allies and partners in Southeast Asia appear to be drawing closer to China at a time when concern is already growing about American commitment to the region under US President Donald Trump.
In an apparent effort to lessen any such fears, Ng also said ASEAN was planning to hold maritime exercises with the US for the first time next year.
– reporting by AFP