Americans at sea in multinational SE Asian fleet

World | ASSOCIATED PRESS 3 Sep 2019

A senior US naval officer underlined Washington's continuing interest in the Indo-Pacific as the first joint naval exercise between the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations started yesterday.

Rear Admiral Kenneth Whitesell spoke at the Sattahip naval base in eastern Thailand, saying the exercise demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, which Washington has been promoting to counter China's increased activities, including Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Various countries contest China's claims of ownership of almost all of the strategically important area. But Beijing has asserted its claim by building seven islands and equipping them with military runways and missile systems.

The exercise, first proposed in 2017, involves eight warships and aircraft from seven of ASEAN's 10 countries and more than 1,000 personnel. As well as working on search and seizure operations the exercise will refine tracking tactics.

"We are a robust constellation of allies and partners," Whitesell declared, and the United States is "in the Indo-Pacific to stay."

The ASEAN bloc is increasingly having to find a balance between Washington and Beijing. This inaugural exercise comes less than 12 months after China's navy hosted a similar initiative off Guangdong.

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