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Philippines and US forces extend military drills into disputed South China Sea

Philippines and US forces extend military drills into disputed South China Sea

Philippines and US forces extend military drills into disputed South China Sea

Philippines and US forces extend military drills into disputed South China Sea

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  • Filipino and US forces have begun their annual joint military drills.
  • The drills are part of a larger effort to counter maritime, air, land, and cyber-attacks in the disputed South China Sea.
  • The exercises focus on the development of interoperability and are not directed at a specific country.
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On Monday, Filipino and US forces commenced their annual joint military drills, including segments that will, for the first time, occur outside of the Philippines’ territorial waters, following a series of maritime clashes between Manila and Beijing in the disputed South China Sea. The exercises, known as Balikatan — Tagalog for shoulder-to-shoulder — will continue until May 10 and will involve over 16,000 military personnel, as well as more than 250 Australian and French forces.

For the first time since the annual drills started over 30 years ago, the Philippines and the US will conduct joint naval drills beyond the 12 nautical miles (22.2 km) of the Philippines’ territorial waters, in parts of the open sea claimed by China.

“This exercise represents the essence of unity, collective responsibility, and enduring partnership between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America and other partners,” Philippines’ military chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said during the opening ceremony.

“It is not a partnership of convenience but rather a clear reflection of our shared history, unwavering commitment to democracy, and respect for international law in our pursuit of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Throughout the three-week exercise, soldiers from the two militaries will operate out of a joint command center to perform four major activities with a focus on countering maritime, air, land, and cyber-attacks.

Maj. Gen. Marvin Licudine, the exercise director for the Philippines, told reporters, “It’s the first time that we are going beyond our (12) nautical miles.”

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He clarified that the Balikatan training operations are not directed at a particular country but are more focused on the “development of interoperability,” with an increased complexity of the drills and scenarios to allow soldiers to learn more from one another.

The joint exercises occur as the Philippine and Chinese coast guard and other vessels have been involved in a series of increasingly tense territorial face-offs since last year, including Chinese use of water cannons against a Philippine vessel in the South China Sea last month, causing damage and injuries.

After the incident, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. stated that his government would take countermeasures against “illegal, coercive, aggressive, and dangerous attacks” by the Chinese Coast Guard.

“We seek no conflict with any nation, more so nations that purport and claim to be our friends but we will not be cowed into silence, submission, or subservience,” Marcos had said in a statement.

The Philippines and China, along with several other countries, have overlapping claims in the resource-rich waterway, where a bulk of the world’s commerce and oil transits.

Don McLain Gill, an international studies lecturer at De La Salle University in Manila, stated that the scope of this year’s Balikatan is a “clear reflection of Manila’s commitment to exercise its sovereignty and sovereign rights within its exclusive economic zone despite an international tribunal in The Hague dismissing China’s expansive claims in 2016.

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“This year ’s exercise will also involve complex maritime security issues such as simulations of recovering islands from hostile forces, which add a practical dimension to collective self-defense efforts by the like-minded partners,” he told the news.

“Securing the WPS based on international law will not bode well for China’s expansionist interests. While the Balikatan is aimed at improving joint preparedness amidst emerging challenges in the region, the challenge posed by China’s expansionism is one of the critical factors that provoke regional security.”

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