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US, Philippines Launch Largest Joint Exercises Yet in South China Sea | South China Sea

The United States and the Philippines have launched their biggest combat drills in decades in the waters of the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, a move that risks inflaming Beijing.

The longtime allies’ annual exercises called Balikatan – Tagalog for shoulder to shoulder – will run until April 28 and will involve more than 17,600 troops. The drills will include live-fire drills and a sinking rocket assault.

It will be the latest show of American firepower in Asia, where Washington has repeatedly warned China of its increasingly aggressive actions in the disputed shipping channel and against Taiwan. It comes a day after China conducted three days of military exercises near Taiwan, launched in response to President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

The Biden administration has strengthened an arc of alliances in the Indo-Pacific to better counter China, including in a possible showdown over Taiwan.

This is consistent with efforts by the Philippines under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to defend its territorial interests in the South China Sea by strengthening joint military exercises with the United States and allowing rotating batches of American forces to remain in more Philippine military camps under a 2014 defense pact.

About 12,200 US military, 5,400 Philippine forces and 111 Australian troops are taking part in the drills, the largest in Balikatan’s three-decade history. US warships, fighter jets as well as Patriot missiles, Himars rocket launchers and anti-tank Javelins will be featured, according to US and Filipino military officials.

“We’re not provoking anyone by just exercising,” Colonel Michael Logico, the Philippines spokesman for Balikatan, told reporters before the drills began.

“It’s actually a form of deterrence,” Logico said. “Deterrence is when we discourage other parties from invading us.”

U.S. and Philippine forces will sink a 200-foot (61-meter) target ship in Philippine territorial waters as part of live-fire exercises, Logico said, in an airstrike and artillery bombardment coordinated.

“We’re going to hit it with every weapon system we have, both land, sea and air,” Logico said.

The location facing the South China Sea and across the waters of the Taiwan Strait will likely alarm China, but Philippine military officials said the maneuver was aimed at bolstering the country’s coastal defenses and not aimed at any country.

Washington and Beijing have been on a collision course over long-running territorial disputes involving China, the Philippines and four other governments, as well as Beijing’s goal of “reunifying” Taiwan, by force if necessary.

Last week, China warned against an intensification of US military deployment in the region. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning told a regular press briefing in Beijing that it would “only lead to more tension and less peace and stability in the region.”

On Monday, the US 7th Fleet deployed the guided-missile destroyer USS Milius within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, a Manila-claimed coral outcrop that China seized in the mid-1990s and turned into one of seven missile-protected island bases in the South. The hotly contested Spratlys archipelago in the China Sea. The US military has undertaken such “freedom of navigation” operations for years to challenge China’s vast territorial claims in the busy sea lane.

“As long as certain countries continue to claim and assert limits on rights that exceed their authority under international law, the United States will continue to defend the rights and freedoms of the sea guaranteed to all,” the 7th Fleet said. . “No member of the international community should be intimidated or coerced into giving up their rights and freedoms.”

theguardian Gt

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