By NINIEK KARMINI
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has begun its first joint naval exercise at a time when several member countries are responding more strongly to increasing Chinese assertiveness in the area. The non-combat exercise includes joint maritime patrol operations, search and rescue drills, and humanitarian and disaster relief. ASEAN nations have taken part in naval exercises before with other countries — including both the United States and China — but this week’s drills are the first involving just the bloc and are being read by many as a signal to China. China’s “nine-dash line,” which it uses to demarcate its claim to most of the South China Sea, has brought it into tense standoffs with four ASEAN nations.