Police officers walk past the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) logo outside the ASEAN secretariat as vehicles of the delegates enter the compound ahead of the special ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, 27 October 2022. EFE-EPA FILE/BAGUS INDAHONO

ASEAN countries conduct first-ever joint naval drills

Jakarta, Sep 19 (EFE).- The countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) began their first-ever joint naval drills on Tuesday amid tensions with China due to sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea.

In a statement, the Indonesian army said that the maneuvers, called ASEAN Solidarity Exercise Natuna (ASEX 01-Natuna), will take place until Sep. 23 on the Natuna Islands, located in the northwest of the Indonesian archipelago and in the south of the South China Sea.

Indonesia’s military chief, Yudo Margono, inaugurated the maneuvers, which will include military and civilian participants.

The drills will not include combat simulation but will focus on maritime security and cooperation during emergencies and natural disasters.

Indonesia, which is ASEAN chair this year, is the coordinator of the exercises, which also include the participation of the rest of the bloc’s members, including Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Myanmar’s military junta has been barred from ASEAN’s summits and meetings for not living up to the agreement to resolve the crisis in the country sparked by the 2021 coup but it is taking part in these naval exercises.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have sovereignty disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea, which the Chinese government claims almost in its entirety based on its historical maps.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that China had no legal basis to claim “historical rights” over the disputed islands, a decision that Beijing refuses to recognize.

Chinese vessels have used military lasers and water cannons against Filipino and Vietnamese fishing vessels in an escalation of tension in these waters, which contain important fishing grounds, oil and gas deposits and is a vital trade route. EFE