ASEAN war games with US meant to pro­mote cen­tral­ity of bloc in the re­gion

Global Times US Edition - - ASIANREVIE­W - By Ge Hongliang Page Ed­i­tor: yu­jin­[email protected] glob­al­times.com.cn

Af­ter hold­ing two joint mar­itime ex­er­cises with China in Oc­to­ber 2018 and April 2019, ASEAN mem­bers launched their first joint mar­itime war games with the US from Mon­day to Fri­day at a naval base in Chon­buri prov­ince, east of Bangkok, Thai­land.

Un­like the CHINA-ASEAN joint mar­itime ex­er­cises, in which both sides em­pha­sized jointly main­tain­ing mar­itime se­cu­rity and com­bat­ing non­con­ven­tional mar­itime se­cu­rity threats like the piracy prob­lem, the US-ASEAN joint mar­itime ex­er­cise shows dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tions by the US and ASEAN.

US Indo-pa­cific Strat­egy acts like the guid­ing light for Wash­ing­ton to pro­mote US-ASEAN joint mar­itime ex­er­cise. Com­man­der of US Indo-pa­cific Com­mand Ad­mi­ral Philip David­son on March 7 re­it­er­ated the im­por­tance of “en­sur­ing a free and open Indo-pa­cific” at the Fullerton Lec­ture hosted by the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies. Ac­cord­ing to a state­ment by US em­bassy in Bangkok, the mar­itime ex­er­cise is to “main­tain mar­itime se­cu­rity, fo­cus on pre­ven­tion and pre­empt wrong­do­ing in the sea.” The joint ex­er­cise is mostly held off the coast of Viet­nam’s Ca Mau prov­ince, where the US Navy will de­ploy “sus­pi­cious boats” in a mock ex­er­cise that will help its ASEAN coun­ter­parts search, ver­ify, and pros­e­cute the boats.

US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo at­tended a re­gional sum­mit in Au­gust with the 10-coun­try ASEAN in a bid to pro­mote the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Indo-pa­cific Strat­egy. The joint mar­itime ex­er­cise is ap­par­ently or­ga­nized as part of the US Indo-pa­cific Strat­egy to pro­mote mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two sides. In the opin­ion of Amer­i­can and some South­east Asian me­dia out­lets, the US-ASEAN joint mar­itime ex­er­cise is be­ing held amid ten­sions be­tween China and some bloc coun­tries, es­pe­cially Viet­nam, due to sovereignt­y claims in the South China Sea. It is clearly aimed at con­tain­ing China although it is not re­ported so. The “pre­ven­tion and pre-empt wrong­do­ing” is in fact aimed at China’s in­creas­ing safe­guard of its le­gal rights in the South China Sea.

For ASEAN, the joint mar­itime ex­er­cise with the US is an­other move to avoid be­ing in­volved in com­pe­ti­tion be­tween China and the US and to achieve cen­tral­ity, which means the bloc acts as a re­gional leader in South­east Asia, East Asia and Asia-pa­cific.

ASEAN should “seek to re­tain its cen­tral­ity and strengthen its role as the driv­ing force in re­gional co­op­er­a­tion,” ac­cord­ing to a state­ment is­sued by ASEAN Sec­re­tariat on Jan­uary 1, 2007. The term “ASEAN cen­tral­ity” is in­cluded in the ASEAN Char­ter as “the pri­mary driv­ing force in its re­la­tions and co­op­er­a­tion with its ex­ter­nal partners in a re­gional ar­chi­tec­ture that is open, trans­par­ent and in­clu­sive.”

Such be­ing the case, the mul­ti­lat­eral de­fense di­plo­macy led by ASEAN will soon be­come a touch­stone of new mul­ti­lat­eral de­fense di­plo­macy in South­east Asia, East Asia and Asia-pa­cific.

In re­cent years, China has de­vel­oped rapidly. Amid the re­gional com­pe­ti­tion, that be­tween China and the US is be­com­ing more prom­i­nent, ASEAN mem­bers are fac­ing the in­creas­ing pres­sure of pick­ing sides and ma­jor power com­pe­ti­tion. To deal with such a sit­u­a­tion and avoid pres­sures, ASEAN took the op­por­tu­nity of joint mar­itime ex­er­cises with China and the US to grad­u­ally build a new sys­tem­ized plat­form. The bloc’s eight main partners of di­a­logue, in­clud­ing China, the US and Ja­pan, are also the main par­tic­i­pants in the joint mar­itime ex­er­cise for ASEAN. There­fore, in this sense, hold­ing joint mar­itime ex­er­cises with ma­jor pow­ers such as China and the US is an ac­tive move by the bloc to pro­mote and con­sol­i­date its cen­tral­ity in the re­gion. The au­thor is a re­search fel­low with the Charhar In­sti­tute and the Col­lege of ASEAN Stud­ies at Guangxi Univer­sity for Na­tion­al­i­ties. opin­[email protected] glob­al­times.com.cn

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu RUI/GT

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