China, ASEAN security ties leap forward

By Ge Hongliang Source:Global Times Published: 2018/10/28 21:03:41

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The first ASEAN-China maritime exercise that concluded on Saturday signals that Beijing and the Southeast Asian bloc have upgraded military and defense ties, taking substantial steps in safeguarding security in the South China Sea.

The drill was also the first of its kind between ASEAN and another country, deepening military trust between the two sides. And mutual trust among South China Sea stakeholders is crucial to safeguarding its security.

The Chinese Navy dispatched guided missile destroyer Guangzhou (Hull 168), missile frigate Huangshan (Hull 570) and comprehensive supply ship Junshanhu (Hull 961), while ASEAN nations showcased the Formidable-class frigate RSS Stalwart from Singapore, patrol ship Daruttaqwa from the Royal Brunei Navy, frigate Taksin from the Royal Thai Navy, frigate Tran Hung Dao from Vietnam and the Philippine logistic support vessel BRP Dagupan City participate.

These vessels carried out tasks in line with the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES). They also undertook joint search and rescue. The CUES mainly aims at dealing with maritime crises and helping avoid incidents of interference and collisions in high seas for a stable maritime security order. Meanwhile, mounting non-traditional security threats have prompted China and ASEAN to ramp up cooperation in joint research and rescue.

Safeguarding security in the South China Sea has been a focus of China and ASEAN since the early 1990s. However, it doesn't mean that the maiden maritime exercise between the two sides started without difficulty. It was made possible by a number of subjective and objective factors.

In 2013, China and ASEAN members reached a consensus on putting in place the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in an effective and comprehensive way as well as implementing equal political consultations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC). Since then, the two sides have achieved a lot, including setting up a hotline to manage maritime emergencies in the South China Sea. In 2o17, the parties adopted a basic framework for the COC and agreed on a single draft of the COC negotiating text in the following year.

Furthermore, the joint drill was also carried out as a result of upgrade in military ties. In recent years, China has made enormous progress with Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines and Myanmar, to name a few, in defense cooperation.

The deepening cooperation could be attributed to a change in the attitude of ASEAN over regional security collaboration. During its historical course, ASEAN had hesitated to develop defense ties with other countries. But as the ASEAN security community is gaining development momentum, deepening defense ties with other nations for a stable regional security order has become a must for member states.

In addition, in the South China Sea region, unbalanced development has intensified and uncertainty has piled up. For ASEAN members, the tussle between China and the US is eroding their "centrality" in regional affairs, and also leading to more potential risks. For Beijing, Washington's hawkish policy on the South China Sea exposed the two countries to more frictions.

Therefore, China has to seek a bigger role in the South China Sea and assume more responsibility to defend its security.

While we are delighted to see the successful conclusion of the first ASEAN-China maritime exercise, we need to recognize that we have a lot more work to do in safeguarding security in the South China Sea and that a multitude of challenges lie ahead. We should also keep in mind that ASEAN will launch more joint drills with more countries outside the region, including the US.

The author is a research fellow with The Charhar Institute and director of the College of ASEAN Studies at Guangxi University for Nationalities.


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