The US military is to hold war games for the first with 10 Southeast Asian allies next month, with officials saying the naval drills are aimed at thwarting "wrongdoing" amid persisting rivalry with China for influence in the region.
The US Embassy in the Thai capital of Bangkok announced late Friday that naval forces of the US and member states of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) will launch maritime exercises on September 2 from Thailand’s naval base in southeastern Chonburi province.
A statement released by the US embassy said the five-day naval war games aimed to "maintain maritime security, focus on prevention and pre-empt wrongdoing in the sea."
According to the statement, the naval maneuvers will primarily take place off the coast of Vietnam's southernmost Ca Mau province, where the US Navy will dispatch "suspicious boats" in a mock drill to help ASEAN's navies to "search, verify and legally prosecute" the boats.
The development comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended a regional ASEAN summit earlier this month in a bid to promote Washington’s so-called "Indo-Pacific" strategy.
The move is likely to further annoy China in the wake of Washington's latest $8 billion weapons sales to self-ruling Taiwan, which Beijing views as part of its territory.
This is while a US warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Friday, to conduct what Washington referred to as a "freedom of navigation" voyage, according to Taiwan’s defense ministry.
However, Thai defense ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Kongcheep Tantravanich downplayed the timing of the US-ASEAN drills on Saturday, saying: "We held exercises with China, now we are having exercises with the US... it has nothing to do with the current situation."
Washington has traditionally been present in Southeast Asia and its re-engagement with the strategic region comes as a deteriorating trade war with Beijing threatens to engulf the global economy.
Further fueling the tensions between the two sides, US President Donald Trump vowed on Friday to provide a quick response to China's decision to slap retaliatory tariffs against about $75 billion worth of American goods, as a response to Washington's planned tariff hikes in the persisting trade war.
In a series of tweets, Trump instructed American firms to stop doing business with China and find an "alternative" to making their products in China.
China’s action came after the US unveiled tariffs on an additional $300 billion of Chinese goods, including consumer electronics. The Chinese punitive tariffs will range from 5 percent to 10 percent on 5,078 items from the US.
Also a source of friction is China's claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea, as the resource-rich waters contain some of the world's most vital commercial shipping lanes.
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