SINGAPORE, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) plan to hold maritime drills later this year in a move that security analysts said could be Beijing's way of consolidating power as it moves forward with militarization efforts in the South China Sea.
The two sides announced the agreement last week here, which hosted defense ministers from the region and Chinese Gen. Chang Wanquan.
While all parties agreed that terrorism remained a key challenge in the region, participants reaffirmed the importance of coming up with a code to prevent unplanned encounters in the sea and air, a joint statement said.
In particular, the ministers discussed ways to improve practical cooperation and welcomed the conduct of an inaugural ASEAN-China Maritime Exercise at the end of this year, the statement said without announcing a date for the drills.
Sources said tabletop exercises could take place some time in October, followed by naval exercises involving one of the 10 ASEAN nations later in the year.
The Philippines, which hosted ASEAN meetings last year and appears to have improving ties with Beijing, could be tapped for the inaugural drills, according to a foreign department source who requested anonymity.
Beijing proposed drills three years ago, but some ASEAN members had expressed apprehension because of rising tensions in the South China Sea.
China claims much of the region while rival Taiwan and ASEAN countries Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippine and Vietnam have their own stakes in the South China. In 2016, the Hague-Based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines in its challenge to China's efforts in the region.
China has rejected the ruling and continues to expand structures including landing strips on islands it has claimed.
Source: NAM News Network