South China Sea – ASEAN steers between two powers

Asean steers between two powers with joint US military exercise in South China Sea
The USS Montgomery leads a flotilla of Asean navy ships in the Gulf of Thailand, during a joint maritime exercise. Photo: AFP

Asean’s first joint exercise with the US, which wrapped up on Friday, is the latest effort by the Asian bloc to rebalance its military engagement with Beijing and Washington, while avoiding being seen to tilt towards either of the two powers in the region, analysts said.

The five-day exercise was an opportunity for the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to parade their military presence in the disputed South China Sea alongside the superpower as both the US and China vie to curb each other’s influence in the region.

The exercise, led by the US and Thailand, involved eight warships, four aircraft and more than 1,000 personnel. Participants also included Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.

Asean held a similar joint exercise with China in October – also the first of its kind – with more than 1,200 personnel from China taking part. Experts said the two exercises were different in their nature as well as their operational practicality.

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