China will hold anti-terrorism exercises with five Southeast Asian neighbors in Chinese waters later this month, the country’s defense ministry said.
The joint exercises come as China seeks to “deepen mutual military trust” at a time of heightened tensions over territorial disputes in the country. South China Sea.

The armies of Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam will participate in the “Aman Youyi 2023” exercises, with China hosting the multinational exercise for the first time since its launch in 2014.

The exercises, focusing on land and maritime counterterrorism and security operations, will be held in Zhanjiang, a port city in southern China’s Guangdong province, the Defense Ministry said in a statement on Sunday. communicated.

This is the first time that Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos have participated in the exercises.

Vietnam and Malaysia dispute some of Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, where its tensions increased most recently with another rival claimant, the Philippines.

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“The aim of the exercises is to strengthen the urban and maritime counter-terrorism capabilities of participating countries, further deepen mutual military trust and pragmatic cooperation, and jointly maintain regional peace and stability,” the Ministry of Defense statement said. defense.

“Chinese forces participating in the exercises mainly come from the Southern Theater Command, while other parties provide various ground combat units and warships,” the statement added, referring to the People’s Liberation Army regional command overseeing Southeast Asia and the South China Sea.

This will be the fifth edition of the “Aman Youyi” routine military exercises between China and Southeast Asian countries, aimed at promoting mutual trust in the South China Sea region and strengthening ties. response capabilities.

The inaugural edition in December 2014 in Kuala Lumpur was initiated by China and Malaysia. It focused on escort, search and rescue and humanitarian assistance through tabletop exercises. Live exercises in 2015 and 2016 were also organized by Malaysia.

Thailand, which participated as an observer in 2016, joined the exercises in 2018. The 2018 edition was the largest in the series, with the three countries deploying 1,225 personnel, four warships, three large transport planes and three helicopters.

The three new entrants have doubled the number of participating countries this year. The six countries held an initial planning conference on the details of the exercise in May, followed by a final planning conference in August.

The Philippines, which recently clashed with China over its rights in the South China Sea, participated as an observer in previous exercises but will not do so this time.

Chinese and Philippine coast guard vessels recently clashed near the Second Thomas Bank in the disputed Spratly Islands, also claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Manila called China’s actions “illegal” and “dangerous,” while Beijing said the Philippines’ actions violated Chinese territorial sovereignty and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Ships from both countries also clashed last month in the waters around Scarborough Reef, claimed by both Beijing and Manila.

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