Issue Brief on “ASEAN Solidarity Exercise 2023 (ASEX 2023) in the South China Sea”

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Introduction

From 5-7 September 2023, Indonesia hosted the 43rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Jakarta,[2] and just after a fortnight i.e., from September 19-23 Indonesia hosted the first-ever ASEAN Joint Military Exercise, conducted in the South Natuna Sea.[3] This is the southernmost area of the South China Sea and lies well within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Indonesia and has strategic importance due to its close proximity with the vital Strait of Malacca. The exercise was codenamed as ASEAN Solidarity Exercise 2023 (ASEX 2023).[4] Previously, the Indonesian military spokesperson Julius Widjojono announced that the exercise will not involve any training related to naval combat operations and said that “This exercise is focused not on combat;”[5] instead, it will focus on preparing ASEAN members for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR). It was also mentioned that the main purpose of the exercise will be to strengthen ASEAN centrality and unity. However, in June, the Indonesian Navy announced a slight change regarding the location of the drills, and said that the exercise will take place in South Natuna Sea, away from China’s nine-dash-line or its historic maritime boundary.[6]

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