Free and Open Indo-Pacific/FOIPPartnershipsSoutheast Asia

ASEAN schedules first multilateral maritime exercise for September

Gusty Da Costa

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) seeks to build peaceful cooperation and solidarity and to strengthen interoperability among armed forces of its member states during a multilateral maritime exercise, its first such drill, planned for September 18-25, 2023.

Initiated by Indonesia, the exercise promotes the Indo-Pacific as a region of peace and cooperation rather than one of rivalry and hostilities, analysts said. Indonesia will invite all 10 ASEAN members to participate in the defense drill.

Adm. Yudo Margono, commander in chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces, developed the concept for the exercise, dubbed ASEAN Solidarity Exercise-01 Natuna (ASEX-01N). A delegation from the Indonesian Armed Forces met with other ASEAN military delegations in Jakarta in June 2023 to plan the exercise.

ASEX-01N will focus on noncombat activities such as joint maritime patrol operations, medical evacuation, search and rescue (SAR), and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) drills.

“The joint training will strengthen the ASEAN concept of an Indo-Pacific outlook,” Nikolaus Loy, an international relations expert at UPN “Veteran” University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, told FORUM. “That’s why there is no combat operation. The training is more about security, countering piracy, sea accidents, pollution, and search and rescue.”

The likelihood of natural disasters in the region makes an emphasis on SAR and HADR a highly suitable focus for ASEX-01N, he said, adding that it made sense for Indonesia to initiate the exercise because it has the largest population, land area and economy among ASEAN members. Indonesia also holds the ASEAN chairmanship for 2023.

The exercise initially was to be conducted in the southernmost waters of the South China Sea. However, Indonesia moved ASEX-01N to waters in the South Natuna Sea, within Indonesia’s territory, Reuters news agency reported.

“This exercise is focused not on combat, so it is best suited for the south that is in direct contact with the people,” an Indonesian military spokesman told Reuters, adding the drills will be held in and around Batam island at the mouth of the Malacca Strait.

Dr. Marcellus Hakeng Jayawibawa, a retired Indonesian Armed Forces captain, sees four major benefits to the exercise: strengthening the strategic partnership between Indonesia and ASEAN; increasing regional cooperation for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific; increasing the sharing of knowledge, techniques and tactics as well as professionalism among ASEAN militaries; and improving relationships among ASEAN militaries to strengthen regional cooperation.

“The joint military training … in September 2023 is not a threat by ASEAN nations against other nations,” Hakeng told FORUM. “However, it will show solidarity among ASEAN member states to protect their territory. People can see that stability is maintained in the Southeast Asia region. Besides that, it also shows that all countries in the world should respect international law.”

Gusty Da Costa is a FORUM contributor reporting from Jakarta, Indonesia.


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