US, ASEAN navies hold maritime drills in Thailand

Robie de Guzman   •   September 4, 2019   •   521

Philippine Navy’s (PN) patrol ship, BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS16) is now in a trilateral sail with Royal Brunei Navy (RBN) Darussalam-class offshore patrol vessel, KDB Darulaman (OPV-08) and Vietnam People’s Navy (VPN) Pohang-class HQ-18 as they make their way to participate in the first ASEAN-US Maritime Exercise (AUMX) 2019 in the Gulf of Thailand. (Courtesy: Philippine Navy)

MANILA, Philippines – The United States of America and the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have begun its first-ever maritime drill in the waters of Thailand, the US Embassy in Manila said on Tuesday (Sept. 3).

The ASEAN-United States Maritime Exercises (AUMX), the ceremony of which was held at Sattahip Naval Base in Thailand on Sept. 2 and co-led by the US and Royal Thai navies, will consist of pre-sail activities in Thailand, Singapore and Brunei followed by a sea phase in international waters in Southeast Asia, including the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea.

The U.S. Embassy said the exercise will conclude in Singapore on Sept. 6.

The AUMX includes eight warships and four aircraft from seven countries, and more than 1,000 personnel from the U.S and ten ASEAN member-states, namely Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The Philippine Navy has deployed its Del Pilar-class patrol ship, BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS16) with around 200 sailors and marines for the maritime exercise.

While U.S. assets include the littoral combat ship USS Montgomery (LCS 8), the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108), three MH-60 helicopters, a P-8 Poseidon aircraft and staff assigned to DESRON 7 and CTF 73.

“Our forces sail together during exercises throughout the year and have done so for decades,” said U.S. 7th Fleet commander Vice Admiral Phil Sawyer. “AUMX provides a new multilateral venue to work together on shared maritime security priorities in the region.”

Operating under the theme “Enhancing Shared Awareness and Interoperability in the Maritime Domain”, this maritime exercise aims to promote shared commitments to maritime partnerships, security and safety, freedom of navigation and overflight, and unimpeded commerce in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law.

Rear Adm. Joey Tynch, commander of Task Force 73, who oversees the U.S. Navy’s security cooperation in Southeast Asia, noted that AUMX continues the trend of increased multilateral cooperation among navies in the Indo-Pacific.

“The U.S. Navy along with our partners and allies have long known the value of working together,” said Tynch. “AUMX builds greater maritime security on the strength of ASEAN, the strength of our navy-to-navy bonds, and the strength our shared belief in a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Throughout the exercise, ASEAN member states and U.S. forces will operate together under a combined task force structure, executing a variety of realistic scenarios designed to reinforce interoperability in areas such as visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS), maritime domain awareness, division tactics and maritime asset tracking.

The task force headquarters will be located onboard the Royal Thai Navy vessel HTMS Krabi (OPV 551), and include representatives from each ASEAN member state and the United States. An ashore support element in Singapore will also host representatives from each ASEAN member state.

The US Embassy said commercial vessels have been contracted to serve as the simulated target vessels for the VBSS portion of the exercise, which will focus on countering maritime threats.

“AUMX provides an opportunity to work together at sea during realistic training scenarios,” said Capt. Matt Jerbi, commodore of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7 and deputy commander of the AUMX Task Force. “Training in areas such as maritime domain awareness, where we share information and integrate operations, helps each of us to operate together more effectively.”

While this is the first exercise of its kind with ASEAN, the U.S. Navy has conducted engagements, exercises and port visits in Southeast Asia for decades. In 2019, the 25th Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) bilateral exercise series commenced, along with the 18th Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) multilateral exercise.

The U.S. Navy also participates routinely in ADMM-Plus maritime security exercises, to promote peace and stability throughout the region.

For the Philippine Navy, its participation in this exercise is expected to advance its maritime operational capability to multilateral level, and increase readiness and interoperability.

Thailand beefs up security ahead of ASEAN summit

Jeck Deocampo   •   November 1, 2019

 Thailand beefed up around the meeting venue for the 35th ASEAN Summit on Friday (November 1) as leaders from the Southeast Asian and other regional countries are set to gather for annual talks.

Various roads surrounding the meeting’s main venue in central Nonthaburi Province were already closed off by Thursday (October 31). The meeting is scheduled to kick off from November 2. Around 17,000 security officials were said to be deployed to oversee safety at the ASEAN Summit, according to local media.

The United States has downgraded its participation in back-to-back Asia-Pacific summits in Bangkok, a move bound to disappoint Asian partners worried by China’s expanding influence.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is confirmed to attend the Bangkok meet, while the United States has yet to announce any representative more senior than Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell.

Other issues that may figure at the Southeast Asian summit include the standoff between China and several regional states over its sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea, as well as Myanmar’s treatment of Muslim Rohingya after a military crackdown drove more than 700,000 into Bangladesh in 2017. — REUTERS

(Production: Vorasit Satienlerk, Juarawee Kittisilpa)

Duterte to attend 35th ASEAN Summit in Thailand – DFA

Robie de Guzman   •   October 29, 2019

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte takes a bow before the guests as he takes center stage during the 45th Philippine Business Conference and Expo at The Manila Hotel on October 17, 2019. VALERIE ESCALERA/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte is set to fly to Thailand this week to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, an official from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

In a pre-departure briefing in Malacañang on Monday, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for the Office of ASEAN Affairs Junever Mahilum-West said the ASEAN Summit in Thailand will be held from November 2 to 4.

The Summit Plenary will start on November 2, Saturday while the opening ceremony will be held on November 3, Sunday.

Mahilum-West said Duterte is expected to talk about the long-delayed code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea when he participates in the ASEAN Plus Three Summit and the East Asia Summit.

Leaders attending in this meeting are expected to share their views regarding regional and international issues affecting the region.

The COC will be featured in the discussions, Mahilum-West said, describing the issue as “unavoidable.” The discussion on the COC falls within the ASEAN’s three pillars of cooperation: political security, economic, and socio-cultural.

“Kasi doon sa meeting na ‘yun ng mga leaders, they will have a parang tour of the horizon of what’s happening throughout the region,” she said, adding other countries are also expected to give their views.

“But as to intensive negotiations, we don’t expect that will happen in this meeting— in these kinds of meetings,” she added.

Duterte will also discuss the current direction of the country’s partnerships and cooperation on mutual concerns with China, India, the United Nations, the United States, and Japan during the ASEAN one-on-one summits.

Mahilum-West said there are about 40 anticipated outcome documents at the end of the 35th ASEAN Summit, which represent the culmination of the community’s work in pursuit of a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable ASEAN Community.

Duterte is scheduled to leave for Thailand on November 1, Friday. He will be accompanied by DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez and Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista.

Thailand ousts “royal consort”

Robie de Guzman   •   October 22, 2019

Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi

When Thailand’s newly crowned King Maha Vajiralongkorn named one of his bodyguards as Noble Royal Consort on his birthday in July, no one had held the title for nearly a century, dating back to the days of absolute monarchy.

Later, the palace released a series of photos of 34-year-old consort Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, a former nurse, variously showing her in the cockpit of a fighter jet, wearing a crop top and dressed in combat fatigues with the king and the royal poodle.

Such laudatory images previously had been reserved for the king’s close relatives – and they resembled the military-style photos of the king’s wife, Queen Suthida Bajrasudhabimalalakshana, on her birthday in June.

But Sineenat’s swift rise to the public eye was followed by a sudden and brutal fall on Monday (October 21).

King Vajiralongkorn, 67, stripped her of her titles in an order calling her “disloyal,” “ungrateful” and “ambitious.”

All images of her disappeared from the palace website.

An unverified Instagram account in her name was shut down overnight.

It was not immediately clear exactly what prompted the dismissal of Sineenat, whose whereabouts on Tuesday were not known.

The announcement came days after the palace abruptly postponed a Royal Barge Procession scheduled for Thursday.

The event caps year-long celebrations of King Vajiralongkorn’s coronation after he took the throne following the 2016 death of his father. (Reuters)

(Production: Jiraporn Kuhakan)

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