US mulls more navalexercises inSE Asia
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
THE United States has said it is exploring the possibility of expanding the scope and scale of its maritime training exercises in Southeast Asia.
Newly-appointed US ambassador to Brunei, Craig Allen, said Washington “would be open” to expanding military exercises with ASEAN countries.
“We have many discussions with ASEAN on security and we would certainly not rule out any naval or military exercises ASEAN countries would like to engage in,” he told local media recently. “We’re very interested in a strong ASEAN, we believe a strong ASEAN is very much in US interests.”
When asked whether the expansion of military exercises was due to ongoing territorial disputes between China and some ASEAN members in the South China Sea, Allen said the US would continue to support Brunei’s efforts to improve communication among claimant parties and work towards a Code of Conduct.
“Although Brunei is a claimant state in the South China Sea, it has no active regional disputes and this puts Brunei in an influential position in regard to regional cooperation and efforts to diffuse territorial tensions,” he said.
Four ASEAN countries – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – have overlapping territorial claims with China in the resource-rich waters. The sea is also home to some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, with billions of dollars worth of commerce flowing through it daily.
Tensions have been particularly rife between China and the Philippines, with diplomatic ties souring over what Manila sees as Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in claiming disputed territory.
Allen said ASEAN centrality was key to mediating the dispute, despite China preferring to negotiate with each country bilaterally.
“Recognising reality is probably a good thing. Our presence here (in the South China Sea) is to promote a framework that allows for maximum freedom of ideas, money, goods, people – to allow each nation to develop as it wishes. Our interest here is long-term.”
He added that the defence relationship between the United Sates and Brunei goes far beyond the purchase of American military hardware, saying that bilateral exercises are the cornerstone of the relationship.
Both countries have combined naval exercises annually, called the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT).
CARAT is a series of bilateral naval exercises conducted by the US Navy since 1995 and now involves several countries in Southeast and South Asia including Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Timor-Leste.
The Brunei Times