MANILA - The Philippines on Tuesday took part in an international maritime rescue drill off China's Guangdong Province, a display of cooperation between Manila, Beijing and other neighboring countries despite unresolved disputes over the South China Sea.
The Philippines joined southeast Asian countries Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand in the Chinese-led drill, the largest joint maritime rescue exercise yet held in waters off the Chinese port city of Zhanjiang on Oct. 31.
Among the participants, Brunei also has partial claims to the waters. Notably absent in the drill were other South China Sea claimants Vietnam and Malaysia.
The drill was sponsored by the Ministry of Transport of China and joined by search and rescue agencies of ASEAN countries, according to a report posted on the Chinese Ministry of National Defense's official website.
The report cited how maritime cooperation is necessary as ships from the ASEAN navigate the South China Sea, quoting Zhuang Zeping, deputy director of the Guangdong Maritime Search and Rescue Center and the Guangdong Maritime Safety Administration.
“...[T]he goal of the drill is to explore ways of increasing the success rate of maritime search and rescue as much as possible based on the human life-first concept,” said Zhuang.
The Chinese defense ministry said the drill is a joint action between China and ASEAN to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and improve cooperation in search and rescue drills.
The exercise, held ahead of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in the Philippines this month, involved around 1,000 rescuers, 20 ships and 3 helicopters.
The sea dispute is expected to be discussed at the summit, where ASEAN dialogue partners, including major powers China and the United States, are expected to participate.
At the ASEAN meeting in Manila in April, the regional bloc issued a statement that called for compliance with international law but was silent on continuing Chinese incursions in the disputed waters.
China has consistently asserted its expansive claims over nearly all of South China Sea, ignoring a July 2016 United Nations arbitration ruling on a Philippine case that invalidated its nine-dash line claim.