China - Southeast Asia

Chronology from Jan 2023 to May 2023

: China and Singapore hold a four-day joint naval exercise in regional waters. The exercise comprises both shore and sea phases and involves frigates and mine countermeasure vessels from both navies.

: People’s Liberation Army Navy provides additional assurances to the Royal Thai Navy regarding a submarine deal, with Chinese defense authorities pledging warranty, compensation, and safety if the Royal Thai Navy proceeds with a Chinese-made engine as a substitute for a German-made one for its acquisition of a S26T Yuan-class submarine being assembled in China.

: Officials from China, Myanmar, and Bangladesh hold a tripartite meeting in Kunming to discuss the coordination of the repatriation of 1,000 Rohingyas.

: Chinese and Vietnamese Coast Guard vessels carry out their first joint patrol in 2023 in the Gulf of Tonkin. For the first time, the patrol is jointly commanded by the director-general of the Chinese Coast Guard and the commander of the Vietnamese Coast Guard.

: Chinese officials attend the Mekong River Commission summit in Vientiane, Laos. The meeting convenes amidst increasing concerns about Chinese dam activities that are withholding water upstream and affecting the downstream basin. A joint study is being conducted by MRC members along the Mekong River to examine changing hydrological conditions along the river and propose adaptation measures.

: China and Cambodia conclude “Golden Dragon-2023” joint military exercise. The live drills focus on humanitarian relief operations, hostage rescue, epidemic disinfection, mine clearance, and explosive removal, with more than 3,000 participating troops from the two militaries forming a joint armed force.

: Chinese Premier Li meets Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in Beijing. They agree to engage in further consultation on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and the prospects for bilateral cooperation to help maintain regional security and stability. They also agree to deepen trade relations under the Belt and Road Initiative, including expediting the East Coast Rail Link project.

: Chinese President Xi meets visiting Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Beijing. They agree to upgrade bilateral ties to a “high-quality, future-oriented partnership” and to extend cooperation to science and technology as well as supply chains. Earlier in Lee’s six-day visit to China, he met Chinese Premier Li Qiang, who reaffirmed in his meeting with Lee that China supports ASEAN centrality in regional affairs and that China’s relations with ASEAN is a priority in its foreign and security policy.

: Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang meets Malaysian Foreign Minister Zambry Abd Kadir in Beijing. Both agree to deepen bilateral economic and security cooperation. Qin also holds a phone conversation with Vietnamese counterpart Bui Thanh Son to mark the 15th anniversary of the two countries’ “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership.” The two ministers agree to strengthen strategic communication, political trust, and intensify bilateral cooperation at all levels and sectors. The phone conversation comes as bilateral tensions spike following a reportedly tense encounter between a Chinese Coast Guard ship and a Vietnamese fisheries patrol boat in the South China Sea.

: China’s Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong visits the Philippines to discuss issues related to disputes in the South China Sea with Philippine Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo. The visit and meeting follow announcement of US expansion of its military presence and base agreements in the Philippines. Sun conveys Beijing’s concern and indicates that the region should engage in joint efforts to “exclude external interference and take ownership of our own development and regional affairs firmly into our own hands.”

: ASEAN and Chinese officials meet for a three-day discussion for the “China-ASEAN Joint Working Group on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (JWG-DOC).” ASEAN officials indicate that there is a commitment from all sides to intensify negotiations and that the Code of Conduct will be actionable and binding and consistent with international law.

: Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang visits Indonesia and meets Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi. They take part in the 4th meeting of the Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation and discuss prospects for strengthening bilateral trust, defense and economic cooperation, and coordination of regional security policies. Qin indicates that China is willing to accelerate negotiations with ASEAN on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

: Philippine Coast Guard accuses a Chinese Coast Guard ship of directing a “military-grade” laser at one of its vessels that was supporting a rotation and resupply mission of the Philippine Navy in the Second Thomas Shoal.

: President Xi meets Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Beijing. They announce deepening bilateral cooperation in agriculture, infrastructure, energy, cross-border crime, mine clearance, and cultural exchanges.

: Indonesia deploys a warship to its North Natuna Sea to monitor a Chinese Coast Guard vessel that had been active in the resource-rich area in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone. Indonesia and Vietnam had entered into a joint agreement for Indonesia to develop the Tuna gas field in the Natuna Sea.

: Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) marks its one-year anniversary. The regional trade deal covers nearly a third of the world’s population and accounts for nearly 30% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). RCEP seeks to integrate supply chains and ease trade barriers among the 15 signatory states and aims to cover nearly half of global GDP by 2030.

: Chinese President Xi Jinping meets visiting Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. in Beijing. They sign 14 agreements stepping up bilateral cooperation in areas such as trade and investment, agriculture, renewable energy, infrastructure development, and maritime security cooperation. They also agree to set up direct communication channels to manage maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

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