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South China Sea: ASEAN To Conduct Join Drills In The Contested Region

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The South China Sea will host the first-ever combined military exercise of the ASEAN group of Southeast Asian nations, its chair Indonesia announced on Thursday. These multilateral security drills come at a time when regional volatility and unpredictability are on the rise in the region.

The drill will take place in the North Natuna Sea, the southernmost part of the South China Sea. The decision was made during a conference of military leaders of the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Indonesia, the host of the drill.

Admiral Yudo Margono, the head of the military in Indonesia, told the state-run news outlet Antara that the drill will take place in September and would not involve any instruction in combat operations. Margono stated that the aim was to strengthen “ASEAN centrality.”

A conflict between the United States and China that is taking place in the South China Sea has for years put ASEAN’s cohesiveness to the test. Members of ASEAN-Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia-have conflicting claims with China, which claims jurisdiction over vast portions of the ocean, including Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

According to Julius Widjojono, a spokesman for the Indonesian military, the drill was associated with the “high risk of disaster in Asia, especially Southeast Asia.”

The South China Sea, a route for over $3.5 trillion in annual trade done through ships, has experienced ongoing conflict as China asserts its rights by  stationing coast guards and fishing boats to a long stretch of 1,500 km (932 miles) off its coastline.

An international arbitration court determined in 2016 that China’s vast “nine-dash line,” which is based on its historical maps and claims sovereignty, is baseless.

The ASEAN has been pressing China to complete the long-delayed maritime code of conduct, and some of its members have recently had conflicts with Beijing.

China was accused of sending alleged maritime militia into areas where the fleets of India and ASEAN nations were conducting an exercise, while Vietnam criticised Beijing for stationing a research vessel close to several gas blocs in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

In addition to the first trilateral coast guard drill they did with Japan, the Philippines criticised China’s coast guard for its “dangerous manoeuvres” and “aggressive tactics” and announced plans to conduct combined patrols with the US.

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