The proposed joint exercises between China and Southeast Asian navies is a positive sign of security exchanges in the region after conflicts in the South China Sea subsided, Chinese analysts said Wednesday.
China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are planning to hold their first joint naval exercises next year, Singapore's Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen said Tuesday.
"Singapore supports it," Ng was quoted by Reuters as saying.
"If you hold exercises, you at least build understanding and trust," said Ng, Reuters reported.
The exercises were discussed at a meeting between China and Singapore on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting at the former US air force base in the Philippine city of Angeles.
"This idea was openly floated and I haven't heard any objections to it," Ng told reporters, AFP reported.
China and ASEAN have not made a public announcement about the drills or the proposal.
This is a huge sign because it would be the first time China would hold military drills with ASEAN, Chen Xiangmiao, a research fellow at the National Institute for the South China Sea, told the Global Times.
It means ASEAN is ready to upgrade its cooperation with China from purely economic to military perspectives, Chen elaborated.
As the intensity in the South China Sea subsides, security cooperation between China and ASEAN has improved since the latter realizes that China, as a neighboring country, is a better choice to cooperate with in solving regional problems, Zhuang Guotu, head of Xiamen University's Southeast Asian Studies Center, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Although ASEAN is sending an olive branch to China, it is unlikely to shove the US aside on security cooperation, said Zhuang.
The bloc's strategy is to seek a balance between the superpowers to gain maximum benefits, Zhuang noted.
The drills are more likely to focus on maritime search and rescue operations, and unlikely to involve more sophisticated military exercises, said Chen.
"After all, this is the first time and the shadow of South China Sea disputes lingers on," Chen said.
According to Zhuang, the challenge for China and ASEAN to hold joint drills lies in differences in equipment, language and coordinating system of the different navies, as many military personnel of ASEAN countries are trained in Western countries.