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Friday, October 16, 2015, 15:37

China wants naval drills with SE Asia in S China Sea

By Agencies

BEIJING - China opened a meeting with defense ministers from the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Friday.

Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan told his counterparts from all 10 members of the ASEAN at the start of an informal summit in Beijing that all needed to push for the "correct" development of ties.

Chang said the biggest common need was to maintain stability.

"At present the regional situation is generally stable, but there are obvious downward economic pressures and non-traditional security challenges are increasing," he said, pointing to the threat from terror groups.

"Forces from outside the region are using the Internet, social media and other means to carry out incitements against countries in this region, threatening social stability," Chang said.

Chang also said China is willing to hold joint exercises with ASEAN nations next year in the South China Sea on rules about accidental encounters at sea, search and rescue and disaster relief, a defence ministry statement added, without providing further details.

The event marks the first time China has hosted such an informal meeting which will be followed by the Xiangshan Forum, at which analysts, military leaders and others from around the globe will discuss Asian-Pacific security, maritime issues and anti-terrorism.

Chang added that China is willing to work with ASEAN to boost military cooperation and jointly maintain regional peace and stability.

Since 2013, China has accelerated the construction of new islands atop reefs and atolls in terrotorial waters in the South China Sea and is adding buildings and airstrips to expand public services.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday the artificial islands were created for the public good and have "nothing to do" with militarization.

China's Defense Ministry has said that the ASEAN gathering in Beijing is to "promote strategic trust and pragmatic cooperation." Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Chang Wanquan will hold talks with his counterparts, the spokesman said.

China vastly expanded the scope of the Xiangshan Forum last year, making it an annual rather than biennial event and boosting participation to more than 300 defense officials and academics from 47 countries.

With the world's second-largest defense budget, China's military — especially its navy — is gathering formidable capabilities.

It will soon deploy its first aircraft carrier and is rapidly adding advanced destroyers, missile cruisers and nuclear submarines. The victory Day parade in Beijing last month showcased new missiles.

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