First Asean-US Maritime Exercise kicks off
BANGKOK: Eight warships, four aircraft and more than a thousand personnel from the US and 10 South-east Asian countries will join maritime drills that kicked off yesterday as part of a joint exercise extending into the contentious South China Sea.
The first five-day Asean-US Maritime Exercise (AUMX) starts in Thailand and ends in Singapore.
The drills come at a time of stepped-up US engagement in the region and tensions between Beijing and South-east Asian nations over the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
The exercises are co-led by the US and Royal Thai navies.
"AUMX builds greater maritime security on the strength of Asean, the strength of our navy-to-navy bonds, and the strength of our shared belief in a free and open Indo-Pacific," said Rear Admiral Joey Tynch, who oversees the US Navy's security cooperation in South-east Asia.
The joint drills have come under criticism for looping in Myanmar's navy in a rare show of inclusion despite the US imposing sanctions on top army brass over the Rohingya crisis.
The exercises include the boarding of target vessels to simulate search and seizure.
China claims most of the South China Sea, often invoking its so-called nine-dash line as a supposed historic justification to the waters.
On a trip to Thailand last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged South-east Asian nations to push back against Chinese "coercion" in the sea. - AFP