ASEAN countries have set up a hotline to coordinate emergency responses, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein announced.

The “direct communication link” will be a secure connection between the defence ministries of the 10 ASEAN countries.

It will “build confidence and trust” between the governments and “promote rapid response” during emergencies, Hishammuddin said.

Maritime crises are the ministers’ “biggest concern”, he added. ASEAN countries and China are involved in territorial disputes in the South China Sea for the last two years. The countries lay overlapping claims to oil-rich islands in the region.

The new hotline will “reduce the risk of incidents at sea”, wrote Singaporean Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in a Facebook post. “We are now a phone call away from each other.”

An agreement was signed to install the hotline during yesterday’s ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting.