China’s navy to join Thailand and Malaysia for training exercise as military seeks to build bridges with neighbours


Nine-day Peace and Friendship drill comes amid rising tension with US over the disputed South China Sea

A joint naval exercise to be held this weekend between China, Malaysia and Thailand in the Strait of Malacca would follow US Defence Secretary James Mattis’s visits to Vietnam and Singapore, a trip which began on Monday.

China is to send three destroyers and frigates, two shipborne helicopters, three Il-76 transport aircraft and a total of 692 servicemen to the nine-day exercise named Peace and Friendship 2018.

The drills start on Saturday and will be held off Port Dickson and Port Klang in Malaysia.

China’s defence ministry said that the exercise was intended to demonstrate the common will of the armed forces of the three countries to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea region, strengthen practical exchanges and cooperation, and enhance their ability to jointly respond to various security threats.

“It does not target any country,” it added.

The drill will be held amid the increasing bitter competition between China and the United States, which has spilled over into a stand-off between the two countries’ navies in the disputed South China Sea.

Last month an American warship and a Chinese one came close to colliding in the waters near the Spratly Islands.

It is the second time China has taken part in a drill in the Strait of Malacca, which links the Indian Ocean and the Pacific and is one of the world’s most important shipping lanes.

The exercise will follow Mattis’s visits, to Vietnam for the second time this year, and then to Singapore for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations defence ministers’ meeting.