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ASEAN logo (Photo : ASEAN )

The United States Navy will hold its largest naval drill in Asia with all 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that is, if China's three steadfast ASEAN allies attend and if the Philippines' anti-U.S. and pro-communist president allows the Philippine Navy to participate.                                                                                                        

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The United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) announced the as yet unnamed joint exercise with ASEAN navies to assist the fractious and enfeebled grouping of nations to strengthen their surveillance capabilities.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter unveiled the plan a few days ago during a meeting with ASEAN defense ministers in Hawaii even as China continues unilateral building and militarizing its illegal island outposts in the disputed South China Sea.

Since the exercise was only recently announced, there were no details about the warships to be involved, the number of personnel, the dates and location in Asia of the exercise. But there is the strong possibility the exercise will take place in the South China Sea.

ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have competing claims to small portions the South China Sea.

Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are allied to China. Vietnam and the Philippines are the staunchest anti-China members of ASEAN but that alliance is now in doubt given leftist Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte's anti-U.S. and pro-China leanings.

On the other hand, China claims to own most of the sea based on its illegal and discredited historical rights claim.

The defense ministers' meeting was the first between U.S. and ASEAN since an arbitration ruling on July 12 invalidated China's claims to own almost the entire South China Sea. China has refused to comply with the rulings of the tribunal, preferring to instead assume the role of Asian bully boy.

Carter and his ASEAN counterparts also agreed to boost information sharing and to hold talks in 2017 on maritime security involving the U.S. Navy, coast guard authorities and ASEAN.

Washington will invite ASEAN defense ministers to the U.S. in 2017 for talks to increase surveillance activities by ASEAN. Carter told the ASEAN defense ministers the United States will assist their countries in their efforts to safeguard the waters and ensure they're open to all.

Carter said Washington will expand President Barack Obama's "pivot to Asia" policy that will see most of the U.S. Navy's strength, including its most modern weapons, deployed to Asia.