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Malaysia’s military drills with West, Singapore spotlight its South China Sea concerns

They also agreed to expand into non-conventional areas of cooperation such as counterterrorism, humanitarian and disaster relief, and maritime security.

Since its formation in 1971, the FPDA has been accepted as a “net contributor” to regional security that does not target any one power, said Abdul Rahman Yaacob, a research fellow with the Southeast Asia programme at Australia’s Lowy Institute who specialises in defence and security issues.

Indeed, Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles stressed as much at a May 31 press conference with FPDA ministers in Singapore announcing this year’s more complex drills.

“This is not about China in the sense that the FPDA has been around for 53 years,” he said. “What defines the FPDA and the five countries that you’ve got in front of you … [is] our desire to work closely together.”

Lowy Institute’s Rahman said the promised deployment of advanced military assets by the FPDA’s Western members not only signalled their commitment to Southeast Asia’s security, but also their support for the development of Malaysia’s defence capabilities, in particular.

“The military exercises and interactions with Western forces allow the Malaysian military to learn new tactical and operational strategies from more advanced and experienced partners,” he said.

“The deployment and development of Malaysian military forces and infrastructure in East Malaysia reflect such concerns,” Rahman said. “The Malaysian submarine unit, for example, is based in Sabah, which faces the South China Sea.”

Incursions by Chinese vessels into Malaysia’s territorial waters have increased, especially following the discovery of significant new oil and gas reserves last year, but these have prompted only muted official responses from