ADMM-Plus gets some much-needed exercise

IMG_2583There’s no getting around the fact that ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is a rather weak-willed organisation. Its disjointed and indecisive stance on territorial claims on the South China Sea is ample evidence of that.

However, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) held a major military exercise from 2-12 May in a major show of unity. Hosted by Brunei and Singapore, there were two major components to the exercise – maritime security and counterterrorism.

9N5A8743The ADMM-Plus comprises the ten ASEAN nations, as well as the regional powers of Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the US.

The maritime security exercise, held every three years, is the largest such multilateral exercise in Southeast Asia to date, according to my understanding. It involved an impressive 18 naval vessels and 25 aircraft/helicopters, with task groups sailing from Brunei to Singapore.

9N5A8781The climax of the maritime security exercise was the storming of a hijacked civilian ship, played by the Republic of Singapore Navy auxiliary vessel Avatar, in the South China Sea on 8 May. Bruneian, Singaporean, South Korean and Thai special forces used helicopters and RHIBs to retake the hijacked vessel in a coordinated assault.

On the following day, special forces teams from 15 nations combined to assault a notional terrorist lair in a training area in western Singapore. Indeed, it was something of a special forces jamboree – certainly it is not often you get to see so many special forces in one place at one time!

9N5A9080Organisers stated that ‘the exercise aims to strengthen the capability and interoperability of the ADMM-Plus militaries to more effectively address terrorism and maritime threats as they are put through realistic sea- and land-based scenarios’.

This is all well and good. For those soldiers, sailors and airmen participating in the ADMM-Plus event, it was most definitely a fantastic opportunity to mix with counterparts. Russians and Americans, Chinese and Filipinos, Chinese and Japanese, Americans and…ahem…Chinese, Malaysians and Singaporeans, all working side by side. Good stuff!

IMG_2607However, the South China Sea region remains riven by jagged tensions. China is also currently lobbying extremely hard for support of its maritime territorial claims ahead of the expected ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on a case brought by the Philippines.

Last week Beijing warned ASEAN not to issue a statement on this South China Sea arbitration case. Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told ASEAN officials at a regular meeting this would be a ‘risky move’ to which China would ‘object’. Beijing has been very successful in stalling ASEAN from making any unified or meaningful progress on the South China Sea issue.

9N5A9041With the US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence conducting a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea on 10 May, the invective from China rose yet another notch. The American warship sailed within 12nm of Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands to ‘challenge excessive maritime claims of some claimants in the South China Sea’, according to the US Department of Defense.

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