Beijing wants to conduct joint ASEAN maritime training drills in the South China Sea next year, according to the BBC:
Beijing is currently hosting an informal meeting for defence ministers from the region.
China’s Defence Minister Chang Wanquan has suggested drills for “maritime rescues and disaster relief” […]
China’s proposal comes a week after the US announced it was considering sending ships to an area of the South China Sea China has claimed for itself, a suggestion which sparked strong words from China.
Recently, China has tried to take a softer line with some of its rivals in an apparent attempt to ease regional tensions. China got ahead of itself over the past few years, sending its rivals into the arms of the United States, and now Beijing is hoping to reassure the region that it’s a cooperative power. It’s notable, too, that this announcement comes soon after the U.S. started making more serious noises about sending ships through China’s 12-mile exclusion zone, though Beijing probably was planning this move even before that happened.
As we wrote on Wednesday after news that Japan and China would hold a trilateral summit in Seoul, “China could transform the nature of Pacific politics if it took steps in the south similar to the ones it is taking in the north.” But we’re skeptical that this represents any real détente in the south, and other regional powers perhaps agree. One think tank fellow, for example, described the proposal as “a conciliatory effort at blunting the bad press”, but he admitted that he “[doesn’t] see any concerted buy-in from ASEAN on joint patrols.”