US, ASEAN Conduct First Joint Naval Exercises

A Strategic First . . .

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command carried out the first ASEAN-US Maritime Exercise (AUMX) from September 2-to-6 with all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian States (ASEAN). Involving over 1,260 personnel and eight warships, the exercise began in the Gulf of Thailand, continued off the coast of Vietnam, and ended in Singapore.

Increasing US Naval Presence Deterring China?

Notably the exercise was held with China pushing for a China-ASEAN code of conduct in the South China Sea, which would prohibit the organization of joint military exercises with countries outside of the region. The code of conduct remains a work in progress, although China and ASEAN members have agreed to finalize it by 2022. The AUMX responds directly to the U.S. National Defense Strategy, released in October 2018, which identifies China as a strategic competitor, and which seeks to boost the U.S.’s presence and activities in the Indo-Pacific region. Further, last May, the U.S. conducted ‘quadrilateral exercises’ with Australia, Japan, and India, while increasing bilateral exercises with key ASEAN members, including Vietnam.

A role for Canada?

The exercise took place amid heightened tensions between China and Vietnam around disputes in the South China Sea, while ASEAN members attempt to engage with both the U.S. and China without being caught in between. Since 2018, ASEAN members have conducted several exercises with the Chinese Navy, the latest being held in Qingdao last April. Navigating such murky waters is a tricky and inexact art. With a limited maritime presence and assets in the region, Canada is well advised to continue to watch the evolving geopolitical dynamics and strategic moves.