US promotes free and open Indo-Pacific at naval exercise

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Officers of the U.S. Navy and maritime forces of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) participate in the inauguration ceremony of ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise in Sattahip, Thailand, Monday, Sep. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
Officers of the U.S. Navy and maritime forces of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) participate in the inauguration ceremony of ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise in Sattahip, Thailand, Monday, Sep. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Sattahip (AP) — A senior U.S. naval officer has underlined Washington’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific as the United States launched its first joint naval exercise with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Rear Adm. Kenneth Whitesell spoke Monday at the opening ceremony of the ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise at the Sattahip naval base in eastern Thailand.

He said the exercise demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, which Washington has been promoting to counter China’s increasing influence in Asia, including Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Several Southeast Asian countries contest the Chinese claims.

The United States has been shoring up relations with allies and taking a higher military profile in the Pacific as part of its rivalry with China.