China proposes joint exercises in South China Sea with ASEAN

China offers to perform maritime drills with ASEAN countries in 2016 as US announces plan to send its naval vessels near China’s artificial island in Spratly region

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Chinese Defence Minister, Chang Wanquan (centre) speaks during the China-ASEAN Defence Ministers' Informal Meeting in Beijing.

China suggested to perform joint naval drills with South Asian countries next year in the South China Sea, the country’s defense minister said on Friday.

The proposal came during an informal meeting on October 15-16 between China's Defence Minister, Chang Wanquan and his counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries.

During the meeting, Chang offered joint drills for "maritime rescues and disaster relief."

Chang also pointed that the drills would be one way of achieving the aim of "jointly solving disputes and controlling risks."

Further details on the proposed joint exercises have been not given by the minister, the exercises will be held bilaterally with each of the 10 members of the ASEAN, or as a group.

China’s suggestion came just a week after the United State’s plan to send its naval ships into the 12-nautical-mile zone near China’s artificial island in the Spratly Islands.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying strongly criticized the US following its announcement on the issue.

"We will never allow any country to violate China's territorial waters and airspace in the Spratly Islands, in the name of protecting freedom of navigation and overflight." she said.

According to the analysts, new Chinese approach signals that the country seeks to tone down its island reclamations in the disputed sea to defuse the growing regional tension.

Chinese defense expert Ni Lexiong, evaluated the recent developments, saying that Chinese proposal would prove to US that the country was open for cooperation with South Asian countries to maintain the peace in the region.

“The message is, if we are a threat as described by the US, why would other countries be willing to conduct peaceful exercises with us?" Ni said. 

China often confronts Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei because of overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

China started to build artificial islands in the South China Sea last year, claiming construction work is mostly for civilian purposes.

TRTWorld and agencies