US, Southeast Asia to hold first ever joint maritime drill

BANGKOK (AFP) – The United States (US) and 10 Southeast Asian states will hold their first-ever joint maritime exercises in September, aimed at preventing “wrongdoing” as Washington and Beijing jostle for influence in the region.

Washington has traditionally been the dominant naval power in Southeast Asia and its re-engagement with the area comes as a deteriorating trade war with China threatens to engulf the global economy. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended a regional summit earlier this month with the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in a bid to promote the Trump administration’s so-called “Indo-Pacific” strategy.

The navies of the US and ASEAN will do the same on September 2, the US embassy in Bangkok announced late Friday, with the exercises launching at a Thai naval base in Chonburi province east of Bangkok.

The purpose of the five-day maritime drill is to “maintain maritime security, focus on prevention and pre-empt wrongdoing in the sea”, said a US embassy statement.

The drills will primarily take place off the coast of Vietnam’s southernmost Ca Mau province, where the US Navy will dispatch “suspicious boats” in a mock exercise to help ASEAN’s navies to “search, verify and legally prosecute” the boats.

File photo shows US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, shakes hands with Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh as ASEAN Secretary-General Dato Lim Jock Hoi, right, looks on, ahead of the ministerial meeting between ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ and the US in Bangkok, Thailand. PHOTO: AP