China to hold first naval drill with ASEAN nations in South China Sea
Iran Press TV
Fri Oct 19, 2018 10:48AM
China is preparing to hold its first joint maritime exercise with the navies of ten South Asian nations next week in an effort to ease rising tensions in the disputed South China Sea, Singapore says.
Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen announced on Friday that the drill will be jointly held by navies of China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with whom Beijing is involved in maritime disputes in the strategic waters.
China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, which is also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines,
"As we speak, the navies of ASEAN are en route to Zhanjiang in China for the ASEAN-China Maritime Exercise," said Ng, who also added that the drills would help to "build trust, confidence" in the region.
The announcement was made at a gathering of ASEAN defense ministers in Singapore, which is also attended by Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe and US Defense Secretary James Mattis.
The US, which has sides with China's rivals in the dispute and constantly accuses China of militarizing the Sea, has sent several of its warships to the disputed waters to protect what it calls "freedom of navigation" there, but Beijing accuses Washington of interfering in the regional issues and deliberately stirring up tensions.
The upcoming naval exercise, according analysts, is aimed at demonstrating that China and ASEAN are managing well their maritime problems."
Mattis, at the meeting on Friday, once again reiterated Washington's stance saying he was concerned "about the militarization of the features in the South China Sea."
"No single nation can rewrite the international rules of the road, and we expect all nations -- large and small -- to respect those rules," he said.
The Pentagon chief also met the Chinese defense minister on the sidelines of the summit on Thursday, when the two discussed an existing invitation for Wei to visit Washington, according to a report by the Associated Press. No agreement, however, was announced.
A planned meeting between the two was previously called off after the US administration imposed sanctions on Beijing over its purchase of Russian weapons systems.
US bombers flew over South China Sea
Ahead of the meeting on Thursday, Pacific Air Forces said in a statement that two US heavy long-range bombers have flown near China's islands in the South China Sea on Tuesday.
The B-52H Stratofortress bombers departed from the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and "participated in routine training mission in the vicinity of the South China Sea," it added.
It is not known which islands the bombers flew by, but recent tensions have focused on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Washington's military presence in the region, halfway around the world, has led to worries about an increasing risk of accidental collisions that could spark a consequential wider conflict.
Earlier this month, the US Pacific Fleet announced that a Chinese warship almost struck an American destroyer that was near the Spratly Islands.
Experts warned that amid an impasse in relations between Beijing and Washington, China may intensify its responses to the United States' "freedom of navigation" patrols in the South China Sea. The two superpowers have already been involved in trade and diplomatic hostilities.
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