These mounting regional security concerns include the growing menace of terrorism and other forms of transnational crimes as well as shaky economic and military relations.
Asean, US holding maritime exercise in 2019
Jaime Laude (The Philippine Star) - October 21, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Viewed as a confidence-building measure that enhances cooperation among regional navies, defense ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the US have agreed to conduct a joint maritime exercise next year.

“During the (ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting or ADMM-Plus Informal Meeting), the defense ministers welcomed the US’s strong and sustained engagement of ASEAN and the region and recognized the importance of US-China relationship, which has implications on regional peace and stability,” said ADMM, through the Singapore Defense Ministry, in a statement.

These mounting regional security concerns include the growing menace of terrorism and other forms of transnational crimes as well as shaky economic and military relations.

One of these challenges is the continuing militarization of man-made islands in the disputed Spratlys archipelago.

Aside from Taiwan and China that claim the entire Spratlys, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping maritime and territorial claims in the disputed archipelago.

But other defense observers viewed the ASEAN-US maritime drill as Washington’s answer to the Beijing-sponsored ASEAN-China Maritime Field Training Exercises scheduled to open on Wednesday outside the uncontested waters in the  South China Sea.

In February, China proposed in Singapore, as ASEAN chair this year, the holding of the Maritime Field Training Exercises. ASEAN member-states approved the proposal, provided that the training will be held outside contested waters.

It was agreed on by ASEAN and China that the joint maritime field training drill will be held off the coast of Zhangjang.

A Philippine Navy supply and logistic ship, BRP Dagupan City, with 300 sailors and Marines, is now on its way to join the training that includes maritime interdiction and unplanned encounters.

The US Navy is expected to monitor the drill as one of its aircraft carriers, USS Ronald Reagan, coming from a naval engagement in South Korea, is reportedly steaming for an undisclosed mission to the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, in a press statement, the Singapore defense ministry said next year’s ASEAN-US training was approved during the ASEAN-US Defense Ministers’ Informal Meeting on Friday between Singapore’s Minister for Defense Ng Eng Hen and US Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Mattis, who chaired the ADMM-Plus meeting with Ng, reaffirmed his support for ASEAN.

Mattis said the focus areas the ASEAN and US must explore include high-level dialogues and exchanges; maritime security; humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; capacity building in other fields such as international law; peacekeeping operations; chemical, biological and radiological threats and cyber security.

China, on the other hand, came up with a three-point proposal during its co-hosting of the ADMM-Plus meeting.

Chinese State Councilor and Minister of National Defense Gen. Wei Fenghe said his country wants to deepen defense engagements with the ASEAN member-states as he proposed the establishment of an ASEAN-China direct communication hotline, think-tank exchanges and a young leaders’ exchange program.

“The ASEAN defense ministers supported these proposals, which would help forge mutual trust, confidence and friendships between the militaries and defense establishments of ASEAN member-states and China,” the ADMM statement released by the Singapore defense ministry said. – With Pia Lee-Brago

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