Cooperation expected to be new normal in defense affairs: experts
Chinese State Councilor and National Defense Minister Wei Fenghe on Sunday hailed the first-ever China-ASEAN joint military exercise as a milestone event that will showcase the resolve and determination of China and ASEAN to safeguard regional peace and stability.
Wei made the statement during his meetings with the heads of observation groups from the 10 ASEAN member states in South China's Guangdong on Sunday, ahead of the weeklong drill which starts on Monday.
China is willing to put forth efforts to enhance defense ties with ASEAN, to enhance communication, deepen pragmatic cooperation and to forge a higher-level strategic partnership with ASEAN, Wei said, Chinese Defense Ministry's website reported Sunday.
The heads of the ASEAN observation groups said that ASEAN attaches great significance to the enhancement of maritime security cooperation with China, and they hope that through the joint drill, military communication and cooperation between the two sides as well as mutual understanding and trust will continue to grow.
Chinese observers hailed the drill, which comes in the most sensitive field of defense, as showcasing further enhanced mutual trust which is expected to become a new normal.
"The ASEAN-China Maritime Exercise is an important measure for the two sides to deepen defense and security cooperation and enhance mutual trust," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said at a routine press conference on Friday.
The first-ever joint military exercise signifies the two sides have built great mutual trust beyond the political and economic domains, reaching to the most sensitive field - the military, said Zhuang Guotu, head of Xiamen University's Southeast Asian Studies Center.
ASEAN's willingness to deepen its military ties with China sends the world a message that it has high expectations of the positive role China is playing in the region, and the two sides are increasingly confident of being able to manage differences and conflicts without interference from powers outside the region, Zhuang told the Global Times on Sunday.
The drill will focus on maritime safety, as well as search and rescue at sea with an emphasis on the use of the Code of Unplanned Encounters at Sea, Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Wu Qian said at a press conference at the end of August.
Apart from the ASEAN-China Maritime Exercise, armed forces from China and ASEAN members Malaysia and Thailand are conducting a joint drill in two states of Malaysia and their offshore areas, which started on Saturday and will last till October 29.
A total of 692 members of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theater Command, PLA Hong Kong Garrison and PLA Macao Garrison are expected to participate in the drill, as well as three naval vessels, two shipboard helicopters, three Il-76 airlifters and four vehicles from China, according to a statement released by the defense ministry on October 14. "It does not target any country," read the statement.
During the 9th China-ASEAN Defense Ministers' Informal Meeting, which was co-chaired by Wei and his Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng Hen on Friday, China and ASEAN pledged to promote defense cooperation between the two sides, Xinhua reported.
ASEAN defense leaders spoke highly of the developments in China-ASEAN ties, and expressed support for China's suggestions in promoting defense ties with the bloc.
"The joint military drill is a great start between the two sides, and it will become a routine event as mutual trust grows, which is to the good of regional peace and stability," Xu Guangyu, a senior consultant at the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, told the Global Times on Sunday.
Xu also expects that China-ASEAN maritime patrols could possibly take place in the South China Sea region after the successful conclusion of the drill.