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International relations

US and ASEAN to hold first joint naval drills near South China Sea

Southeast Asian bloc walks tightrope between Washington and Beijing

Vietnamese honor guards in naval uniform. Vietnam is in a dispute with China over territory in the South China Sea.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is holding its first joint military exercise with the U.S. Navy in the Gulf of Thailand early next month.

The 10-country ASEAN and the U.S. had agreed to the drills at a defense ministers' meeting in Singapore last year. While details have not been announced, the drills will likely last five days starting around Sept. 2. The U.S. is expected to deploy a destroyer to the gulf, which neighbors the South China Sea.

ASEAN also conducted a joint naval exercise with China for the first time in October 2018 off the coast of Guangdong Province. China has proposed to hold such drills periodically in hopes of deepening its military partnership with ASEAN.

But certain members of the bloc, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, are locked in a territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea. They likely hope an exercise with the U.S. will help counter China's influence in the region.

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