November 11, 2015 / 5:09 AM / in 2 years

Chinese, Thai air forces to hold first joint exercise

BEIJING (Reuters) - The Chinese and Thai air forces will this month hold their first joint exercises, China’s Defence Ministry said on Wednesday, in another sign of army-led Thailand’s increased engagement with Beijing.

The “Falcon Strike 2015” drills will take place at the Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base from Nov. 12-30, China’s Defence Ministry said in a short statement.

“The aim of this joint exercise is to increase mutual learning and understanding between the two countries’ air forces, deepen Sino-Thai practical cooperation and increase mutual trust and friendship,” it said, without elaborating.

An army-led coup toppled Thailand’s elected government in May last year, after months of sometimes violent street protests. The coup was widely condemned by Western nations, which downgraded diplomatic ties, but the military rulers claimed to have support from China following the move.

Since then, Thailand, a traditional ally of the United States, has sought to improve ties with neighbors. It stepped up engagement with China, as Beijing increases its influence in the region with a raft of loans and aid for infrastructure.

China has rattled nerves in Southeast Asia with its increasingly assertive acts in the South China Sea, where China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei all have competing territorial claims.

A summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ defense ministers last week, attended by both the United States and China, failed to produce a final statement because the delegations could not agree on whether to mention the South China Sea dispute.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ryan Woo

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