China begins joint naval drills with six Southeast Asian nations

China said on Thursday it had begun a new round of joint naval exercises with its military partners from six Southeast Asian nations in waters off its east coast.

Vice-Admiral Shen Jinlong, commander of the PLA Navy, said 13 warships and four helicopters would take part in the drills in Qingdao, Shandong province, where China on Tuesday held a naval parade as part of celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its maritime force.

The countries taking part included Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam, Shen said, without naming the other two.

“The joint drills are designed to show China’s sincerity and willingness to work with its neighbours, as well as the PLA Navy’s passion to build a maritime community with a shared future by enhancing security cooperation and mutual trust with all of its counterparts in Southeast Asia,” he was quoted as saying in a statement.

The exercises would focus on ship formations and movement, search and rescue, inspection and capture, and medical procedures among other skills, the statement said, adding that Indonesia and Laos would send observers to the event.

The joint drills come as Beijing is locked in a number of territorial disputes in the South China Sea with several of its Southeast Asian neighbours, including the Philippines and Vietnam.

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According to Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong, the move suggested Beijing was keen to curry favour in the region to offset similar efforts by the United States.

“The joint drill is a timely tactical measure aimed at countering American influence on Southeast Asian countries,” he said.

And the presence of so many representatives from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Tuesday’s naval parade was evidence China’s efforts were paying off, he said.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam – all of which have territorial disputes with Beijing – were represented by five warships at the event.

“After building up a rapport with the parade, China is keen to make good use of the navy’s anniversary to reinforce its links with Asean countries and draw them away from the United States,” Wong said.

China did not say how long the joint drills with Asean would last, but the defence ministry said on Thursday that the navy would on Monday begin a six-day joint exercise with its Russian counterparts off the coast of Qingdao.

The China-Russia drills would involve two submarines, 13 surface vessels and 11 aircraft, it said.

Also on Thursday, the PLA Navy bade farewell to the 18 vessels from 13 nations that took part in the anniversary flotilla. The event was observed by delegations from 61 countries.

In contrast to the poor weather on the day of the parade, Thursday’s farewells took place under blue skies and large crowds gathered to watch as tugboats guided the Malaysian frigate Leiku out of Qingdao port to the accompaniment of a Chinese navy band.

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Before departing, the leaders of the foreign delegations and media representatives were taken on guided tours of the PLA Navy’s Guiyang Type 052D guided-missile destroyer, the 25,000-tonne Type 071 amphibious transport dock Jinggangshan, and its Peace Ark hospital ship – which were among the 32 Chinese vessels that took part in the parade.

“I am so impressed by the development of the PLA Navy over the past few years, and we welcome all kinds of military-to-military engagements and encounters,” said Vice-Admiral Nikolaos Tsounis, the commander of the Greek navy.

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