China has vowed to beef up military cooperation with several Southeast Asian nations after the US announced it was lifting a decades-old ban on the sale of lethal military equipment to Vietnam.
The pledges of a deeper partnership with Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand also came amid escalating regional tensions over territorial claims in the South China Sea and ahead of an international court ruling that could potentially drive a wedge among Asean members.
Central Military Commission vice-chairman Xu Qiliang said China would step up military cooperation with Malaysia to safeguard regional stability and maintain China’s friendly relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Xinhua reported.
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Xu met the head of the Malaysian navy, Admiral Dato’ Seri Panglima Ahmad Kamarulzaman bin Haji Ahmad Badaruddin, in Beijing on Tuesday.
Without elaborating, Xu also said China strongly opposed any intention by individual countries to escalate tensions in the South China Sea, the report said.
Also on Tuesday, Defence Minister Chang Wanquan vowed to strengthen cooperation with armed forces in Myanmar and Thailand – both Asean members. An informal meeting between the defence ministers of China and the regional grouping kicked off in Vientiane, Laos, on Wednesday.
Chang held talks with his Myanmese counterpart Sein Win, pledging to further deepen military ties between the two countries by increasing personnel exchanges, training and cooperation of their defence industries, China’s Ministry of National Defence said on its website.
In a separate meeting, Chang told his Thai counterpart Prawit Wongsuwan that their two armies had benefited from a wide range of cooperation, while Prawit called for further joint efforts in personnel exchanges and anti-terrorism cooperation, Xinhua said.
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The pledges by China’s top military officials came one day after US President Barack Obama announced the lifting of a long-standing embargo on lethal arms sales to Vietnam.
Tensions have flared in the Asia-Pacific ahead of a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration over a claim filed by the Philippines contesting the legality of China’s “nine-dash line” demarcating most of the South China Sea as its territory.
The decision is widely expected to go against China’s interests and come out next month.
Beijing has refused to take part in the proceedings.
Four Asean members – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – have rival claims to parts of the sea with China.
On Tuesday, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, comprising China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, said the bloc “supports the efforts by the Chinese government to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea”.