SINGAPORE — Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said today that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is planning a maritime exercise with the US Navy next year.
In his opening speech at a meeting of ASEAN defence ministers in Singapore, Ng said, "ASEAN’s centrality will be further emphasised if we agree on today’s proposal for the ASEAN-US maritime exercise next year."
The proposal - which would be the first such exercise involving the US and all 10 ASEAN countries - has already been approved by ASEAN defence officials, according to ASEAN sources.
The idea of an ASEAN-US maritime exercise comes as ASEAN is set to conduct its first-ever joint naval exercise with China from October 22 to 27 off the southern Chinese coastal city of Zhanjiang in the South China Sea (called East Sea by Việt Nam).
It appears to be aimed at striking a balance between China and the US - the two major powers with considerable influence in the region, especially in the South China Sea/East Sea.
The joint exercise plan is expected to be included in a joint declaration to be issued after the defence ministers’ meeting, which is chaired by Ng.
ASEAN defence ministers will also be meeting with defence chiefs from major countries outside the region, including the US, China, India and Russia, in a series of meetings through Saturday.
In February, ASEAN and Chinese defence ministers agreed to conduct a first joint maritime exercise this month. A two-day table top exercise, which focused on developing plans to conduct joint rescue operations at sea, was held in August.
For its part, the US military has conducted bilateral and multilateral military exercises with all ASEAN states but Myanmar and Laos, according to the website of the US Embassy in Singapore. — KYODO