SINGAPORE - Regional defence ministers agreed at this year's Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) to extend the regional grouping's secured hotline for rapid direct communication to eight other countries.
They are Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the United States.
Together with the 10 Asean countries, they form the expanded ADMM-Plus platform.
The three-day meeting in Bangkok, which ends on Friday (July 12), also saw the adoption of more initiatives to boost information sharing and reduce the risk of miscalculations.
These included the terms of reference for the Asean "Our Eyes" Initiative, an Indonesian-led platform for counter-terrorism intelligence-sharing, as well as the Guidelines for Maritime Interaction to facilitate the peaceful management of tensions that could arise at sea.
The Asean ministers also signed a declaration on sustainable security, underscoring their commitment to cooperate on it.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who is attending the meeting, said the launch of new defence cooperation initiatives are a good sign for Asean.
"Some people would say you need to go faster, and some people would say that you are actually doing too much; you need to consolidate," he said on Thursday.
"I think the overall picture is that this is a security grouping that is dealing with challenges that individual countries or all countries face, and then over the years promulgating measures to deal with them."
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the meeting, Dr Ng added that the ADMM has made good progress since its inception 13 years ago.
The current consensus among defence ministers and think-tanks outside Asean that the ADMM is a credible group was not a given when it was formed, he noted.
"The very fact that we not only have consolidated on some issues... but on the main issues is a good sign of progress," he said.
He added that the combined militaries of the 10 Asean countries and eight ADMM-Plus members account for the majority of the world's troops.
The defence ministers jointly called on Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Separately, on the sidelines of the meeting, Dr Ng met Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan. Both sides reaffirmed the close and longstanding defence relations between their countries, the Defence Ministry said.
The ADMM Retreat and the ADMM-Plus meeting, which will involve all 10 Asean countries as well as the eight ADMM-Plus members, will be held later this year.