Home China US, Philippines, France, Australia Begin Major Naval Drills In South China Sea

US, Philippines, France, Australia Begin Major Naval Drills In South China Sea

Philippines Exercise Director Major General Marvin Licudine, Philippine Army Chief of Staff Romeo Brawner Jr., U.S. Embassy representative Robert Ewing, Philippine Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Education, Training and Doctrine Major General Noel Beleran, and U.S. Exercise Director Lieutenant General William Jurney link arms during the opening ceremony of the annual Philippines-U.S. joint military exercises or Balikatan, at the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, April 22, 2024. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

Nearly 17,000 Filipino and American soldiers, sailors and airmen began a three-week joint military exercise in the Philippines on Monday, including in the South China Sea, where Manila and Beijing have clashed over territory. For the first time, these maritime exercises will take place beyond Philippine territorial waters, with France and Australia participating. Both countries have strengthened their defence relationships with Manila due to China’s assertive actions in the South China Sea.

The annual Balikatan, or “shoulder-to-shoulder,” exercises, scheduled from April 22 to May 10, occur against a backdrop of increasing diplomatic disputes and sea confrontations between the Philippines and China, featuring incidents like water cannon use and intense verbal conflicts.

Officials stated that these drills aren’t aimed at any particular foreign threat but are designed to enhance how well the participating militaries work together.

“Exercises in those locations operate based on international order and international law and well within your sovereign rights and responsibilities. We’re conducting exercises that are normal,” U.S. Lieutenant General William Jurney, Balikatan exercise director, told a briefing.

Beijing’s escalating actions in the South China Sea have raised concerns in Manila, among other rival claimants to the disputed maritime areas, and among countries like the United States that operate there. The U.S. has reinforced its promise to protect the Philippines from armed attacks in the South China Sea.

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China claims most of the South China Sea, which is a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual ship-borne commerce. Beijing has criticised the joint drills, saying they aggravate tensions and undermine regional stability.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled in 2016 that Beijing’s expansive claims to the sea had no basis under international law. China rejects the ruling and has built military facilities on disputed atolls to back up its claims.

During joint exercises, U.S. troops and their Manila counterparts will simulate retaking enemy-occupied islands in the northernmost islands of the country close to Taiwan, and in the western Palawan province facing the South China Sea.

The drills will involve around 16,700 troops from both sides, slightly less than last year’s 17,600, which were the largest Balikatan exercises since they started in 1991.

With Inputs From Reuters