China hosts joint drills amid tensions in South China Sea

RFA staff
China hosts joint drills amid tensions in South China Sea The Vietnamese warship Quang Trung leaves Cam Ranh port and heads toward Zhanjiang in China, Nov. 8, 2023.
Vietnam Ministry of Defense

A joint military exercise between China and five Southeast Asian nations opened this week in Zhanjiang in southern Guangdong province, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported.

The militaries from Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have sent personnel and warships to the Aman Youyi-2023 (Peace and Friendship-2023) drills, which focus on joint anti-terrorism and maritime security, according to a statement from China’s Ministry of National Defense.

“The aim is to help participants enhance their urban anti-terrorism, maritime anti-terrorism and anti-piracy capabilities, and deepen military mutual trust and cooperation to safeguard regional peace and stability,” the ministry said.

It did not specify how long the drills off the coast of Zhanjiang are to last, but the Cambodian and Vietnamese defense ministries said it is expected to conclude on Nov. 22.

This is the first time Vietnam, Cambodia and land-locked Laos are taking part in the exercise, initiated by China and Malaysia in 2014. 

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Cambodian troops board a Chinese airplane to take part in Aman Youyi-2023, Nov. 12, 2023. [Cambodia’s Ministry of Defense]

The drills follow an incident last week when ships from China and the Philippines confronted each other over Manila’s resupply mission to troops stationed at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.

Manila accused Beijing of blocking Philippine ships as well as firing water cannons at one of them. Beijing said the ships trespassed into Chinese waters.

‘The right approach’

The Philippines previously joined the drills as an observer but is not participating this time. It did participate large-scale U.S.-led regional military exercises such as Cobra Gold in March and Balikatan in April.

Vietnam and Malaysia, which also hold contesting claims over parts of the South China Sea, have sent teams to Zhanjiang.

“Some countries participating in the Aman Youyi-2023 exercise also have maritime disputes in the South China Sea, but they chose the right approach, which is not to let disputes affect friendship and cooperation and jointly safeguard regional peace and stability,” Chinese military analyst Zhang Junshe told the pro-Beijing Global Times.

This year marks the fifth exercise and the first hosted by China. The previous four editions were held in Malaysia.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Defense said it dispatched 92 troops to the drills while Vietnam sent one of its Gepard-class frigates, the Quang Trung.

China has been seeking closer military-to-military cooperation with Southeast Asian countries to respond to what it calls “interference” from the United States and its allies.

China and Laos held a joint military exercise called Friendship Shield 2023 in Laos in May. In March, Cambodia and China carried out exercise Golden Dragon 2023 in Cambodia’s Kampong Chhnang province.

Radio Free Asia (RFA), a news service affiliated with BenarNews, produced this report.


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