A Philippine navy ship with 200 crew gets ready to participate in the first ASEAN-US maritime exercise [Francis Malasig/EPA]

Eight warships, four aircraft and more than a thousand personnel from the US and ten Southeast Asian countries will join maritime drills kicking off on Monday, as part of a joint exercise extending into the flashpoint South China Sea.

The first Asean-US Maritime Exercise (AUMX) between the regional bloc and Washington lasts for five days, starting at the Sattahip Naval Base in Thailand and ending in Singapore.

The drills come at a time of stepped-up US engagement in the region and tensions between Beijing and Southeast Asian nations over the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the

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