Southeast Asia holds 1st joint naval exercise as Beijing increases assertiveness in South China Sea

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations started its first joint naval exercise on Tuesday at a time when a number of member international locations are responding extra strongly to rising Chinese assertiveness in the world.

The non-combat drills, named ASEAN Solidarity Exercise, embody joint maritime patrol operations, search and rescue operations, and humanitarian and catastrophe reduction, Indonesian navy chief Adm. Yudo Margono stated.

He stated the five-day exercise in Indonesia’s Natuna waters goals to spice up navy ties among the many ASEAN nations and improve interoperability. The drills additionally contain civilian teams concerned in humanitarian reduction and catastrophe prevention.


ASEAN nations have taken half in naval workouts earlier than with different international locations — together with each the United States and China — however this week’s drills are the primary involving simply the bloc and are being learn by many as a sign to China.

China’s “nine-dash line,” which it makes use of to demarcate its declare to many of the South China Sea, has introduced it into tense standoffs with rival claimants Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines, with Chinese fishing boats and navy vessels turning into extra aggressive in the disputed waters.

The line additionally overlaps with a piece of Indonesia’s unique financial zone extending from the Natuna Islands. Margono initially stated the workouts would happen in the North Natuna Sea on the fringe of the South China Sea, a fault line in the rivalry between the U.S. and China, following conferences of ASEAN protection officers in Bali in June.

Singapore and Brunei Navy personnel march throughout a gap ceremony of a navy non-combat exercise referred to as ASEAN Solidarity Exercise in Indonesia on Sep. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Andaru Kz)

However, Indonesia, which holds the rotating chair of ASEAN this yr, determined to maneuver the drills to the South Natuna Islands, away from the disputed space, apparently to keep away from any response from Beijing.

China and ASEAN signed a nonbinding 2002 accord that referred to as on rival claimant nations to keep away from aggressive actions that might spark armed conflicts, together with the occupation of barren islets and reefs, however violations have persevered.

China has come beneath intense criticism for its militarization of the strategic South China Sea however says it has the appropriate to construct on its territories and defend them in any respect prices.

“Those who carry out any exploration or activities in that area must not violate state territory,” Margono stated after a gap ceremony for the exercise attended by ASEAN navy leaders on Batam island subsequent to Singapore. “That has been clearly regulated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”


Asked whether or not ASEAN was sending a stronger message in opposition to China’s competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, Margono replied, “We have had a firm stance.”

He informed reporters that ASEAN has agreed to carry navy workouts yearly. In the long run, they are going to be expanded to full struggle drills involving the military, navy and air power, he stated.

Indonesia and China get pleasure from typically optimistic ties, however Jakarta has expressed concern about what it sees as Chinese encroachment in its unique financial zone in the South China Sea. Increased actions by Chinese coast guard vessels and fishing boats in the world have unnerved Jakarta, prompting its navy to conduct a big drill in July 2020 in waters round Natuna.


Despite its official place as a non-claimant state in the South China Sea, Indonesia renamed a part of it the North Natuna Sea in 2017 to underscore its declare that the world, which incorporates pure fuel fields, is a part of its unique financial zone. Similarly, the Philippines has named a part of what it considers its territorial waters the West Philippine Sea.

Vietnam, one of many 4 ASEAN claimant states, has been vocal in expressing issues over China’s transformation of seven disputed reefs into man-made islands, together with three with runways, which now resemble small cities armed with weapons programs.

Two ASEAN members, Cambodia and Laos, each Chinese allies, have opposed the usage of sturdy language in opposition to Beijing in the disputes.

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