The first Asean-China Maritime Field Training Exercise ended yesterday, as participants hailed the strides made in cooperation between Asean and Chinese navies.
It focused on maritime safety, with a joint search-and-rescue mission - one of the highlights of the six-day exercise - carried out in the waters off Zhanjiang in China's southern Guangdong province.
In a speech at the closing ceremony at Ma Xie Naval Base, Vice-Admiral Wang Hai, Commander of Naval Force, Southern Theatre Command, said the exercise showed a "new level of strategic cooperation between China and Asean". He added that "together, we compose a new chapter for the pragmatic naval exchange among countries surrounding the South China Sea".
Exercise co-director Lim Yu Chuan from the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), who approved the plans for the exercise together with his Chinese counterpart, said that its successful completion was "an important achievement".
Colonel Lim, the RSN's commander of First Flotilla and commanding officer of 185 Squadron, said yesterday: "The participants told us they were happy with the outcomes, and this has enabled us to have a greater confidence and trust for our navies to work alongside one another, especially when it comes to responding to maritime incidents at sea in the future."
The field training exercise, the first that Asean has held with one other country, was co-organised by the RSN and the People's Liberation Army Navy. It comes as overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea by China and Asean members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei continue to be a source of tension and concern in the region.
Assistant operations officer Baharudin Haji Salleh, 33, from the Royal Brunei Navy, saw the exercise as a good opportunity to share knowledge and best practices.
Maritime specialist Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, believes there is still much merit to the exercise beyond its "obvious political symbolism".
"It's at least an effort made by both sides to come together... Involving participating navies with varying capabilities, capacities, readiness levels is no easy feat."