Australia may help patrol Malacca Strait
Australia has expressed interest in helping South-East Asian nations carry out aerial patrols of the Malacca Strait, Asia's busiest sea lane.
The Malaysian state news agency Bernama reported that Australia's navy chief made the offer on Thursday as Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Malaysia and Singapore began annual war games in the South China Sea and on the Malaysian peninsula.
"We will be very happy to help in terms of providing the experience in air patrolling," Bernama quoted Australia's navy chief, Russ Shalders, saying in the Malaysian city of Kuantan at the launch of this year's exercises.
Security experts are concerned about the Malacca Strait, which threads its way between Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
Dogged by piracy and fears of terror attacks on shipping, the strait carries a quarter of world trade and links oil-producing nations of the Middle East with East Asian consumers.
Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand began joint air patrols of the waterway this week and have invited foreign powers to help maintain this surveillance. Malaysia has suggested they could provide additional aircraft.
"Terrorism can occur anywhere. The threat here in this region is probably no greater and no less than in other areas," New Zealand Air Commodore R.J. Newlands told reporters in Kuantan.
Twenty-six naval ships, one of the biggest fleets assembled in the 34-year-old joint exercise, have gathered in the South China Sea, off Malaysia and Singapore, for drills increasingly designed to tackle terrorism rather than wage conventional war.
The heavy naval contingent reflects growing concerns in Southeast Asia on maritime security, military officials said.
The exercise, which runs until Sept. 28, is part of an upgrading of a Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) pact established in 1971, primarily to protect Malaysia and Singapore, formerly British colonies, from invasion.
Its focus has recently been widened from traditional warfare to include counter-terror operations.
The exercise will also include 74 military aircraft, one submarine and 3,000 soldiers, and will cover Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and the South China Sea, the military officials said.