Military cooperation to promote China-ASEAN trust

By Ai Jun Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/25 23:50:13

China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are planning to hold an inaugural joint maritime drill next year, said Singapore's Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen Tuesday. Ng noted that Singapore, the chair of ASEAN in 2018, will promote the Beijing-proposed exercise as all ASEAN member states and China want it. "If you exercise, you at least build understanding and trust," Ng said.

In recent years, China and some ASEAN countries have seen some bumps in their ties given maritime disputes. Yet the two sides have managed to promote military collaboration. Last year China and ASEAN approved guidelines for a hot line between senior diplomatic officials on all sides in response to maritime emergencies. This time the planning of their unprecedented joint military drill further displayed the joint will to safeguard regional security.

Beijing and Bangkok agreed in 2015 to boost military ties from fighting transnational crime to sharing intelligence. In October last year, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the county would buy at least four Littoral Mission ships from China. These were "new steps" in military cooperation between the two, Najib was quoted as saying. This year China has twice donated advanced military equipment to the Philippines to fight terrorism.

When Beijing devotes itself to upgrading its collaboration with ASEAN militarily, its goal is not at all the same as that of the US. As US Defense Secretary James Mattis' behavior indicated earlier this week, all Washington wants to do is create a united front against China in Southeast Asia. This is not in line with the interests of ASEAN members. Both Manila and Hanoi have realized that if a conflict broke out with China in the South China Sea, Washington's support was not to be relied upon. More importantly, the China threat that the US has been peddling is manifestly far from being ASEAN's major concern. 

There are maritime disputes between China and a few ASEAN members. These arguments should not pose an obstacle to cooperation between China and ASEAN. The two sides have been working together on a maritime code of conduct. This cooperation enhances mutual trust, reduces conflicts and advances political talks.

Military cooperation between Beijing and ASEAN just got started. This can serve as a significant channel to upgrade mutual understanding and trust. Cooperation can start with maritime search, rescue and anti-piracy operations. Such actions will contribute to more comprehensive promotion of Sino-ASEAN relations and a solution to their differences.

As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, next year will be the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the China-ASEAN strategic partnership. It's an opportunity to forge higher level strategic partnerships and build a closer China-ASEAN community of common destiny.

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