Russia and a number of Southeast Asian countries kicked off their first ever joint naval exercise along the Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s most important shipping lanes, on December 1, Indonesia’s navy said.

The drills come at a time of growing tensions in the Pacific, particularly around the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety.

All 10 members of ASEAN, Southeast Asia’s regional bloc, participated in the drills.

Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar and Brunei provided warships or aircraft, with the Philippines taking part as a virtual observer.

The exercises will continue until December 4.

“This exercise is about peace, stability and prosperity in the region,” Russia’s ambassador to the bloc Alexander Ivanov said in a statement.

Indonesian first fleet commander Arsyad Abdullah said the exercise would “enhance the interoperability and understanding between the Russian and ASEAN militaries”.

One analyst said the exercise would reaffirm the ASEAN bloc’s principle of non-alignment, particularly given regional tensions.

“It is important for us to ensure the balance of power in our region, to reiterate that this is a non-aligned region,” Connie Rahakundini Bakrie, an Indonesian military analyst from the Institute of Defense and Security Studies, said.

The bloc has previously held drills alongside the US and Chinese navies, while Indonesia and the US held their biggest ever annual military exercise – known as Garuda Shield – in August.