The United States and the Philippines are commencing their biggest combat exercises in several decades, involving live-fire drills, including sinking a boat rocket attack, in the waters around the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, which could anger China.
Tagalog for “shoulder-to-shoulder,” the annual drills by the two long-time treaty allies are called “Balikatan.
” This year, the exercises will involve over 17,600 military personnel up until April 28, demonstrating American firepower in Asia, where they have frequently warned China about their increasingly aggressive behavior in the disputed sea channel and against Taiwan.
The Biden administration has been working to improve an arc of Indo-Pacific alliances to better counter China, including a possible confrontation with Taiwan.
This coincides with the actions of the Philippines under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to secure its territorial interests in the South China Sea by boosting joint military exercises with the US and enabling rotating groups of American forces to stay in more Philippine military camps, as per a 2014 defense pact.
About 12,200 US military personnel, 5,400 Filipino forces, and 111 Australian counterparts will participate in the exercises, the largest in Balikatan’s 30-year history. According to US and Philippine military officials, America’s warships, fighter jets, Patriot missiles, HIMARS rocket launchers, and anti-tank Javelins will be showcased.
Before the start of the maneuvers, Col. Michael Logico, a Philippine spokesman for Balikatan, told reporters, “We are not provoking anyone by simply exercising. This is actually a form of deterrence. Deterrence is when we are discouraging other parties from invading us.”
In a coordinated airstrike and artillery bombardment, US and Filipino forces will sink a 200-foot (61-meter) target vessel in Philippine territorial waters off the coast of the western province of Zambales this month, according to Logico.
The field scenario aims to “test the allies’ capabilities in combined arms live-fire, information and intelligence sharing, communications between maneuver units, logistics operations, amphibious operations,” according to the US Embassy in Manila.
The US and China have been on a collision course regarding the long-standing territorial conflicts between China, the Philippines, and four other governments, as well as Beijing’s goal of annexing Taiwan, potentially by force.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning warned last week against the increasing US military deployment in the area, saying it “would only lead to more tensions and less peace and stability in the region.
” The Balikatan exercises are starting in the Philippines one day after China concluded simulated combat drills that simulated blocking off Taiwan, following a meeting between Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California that enraged Beijing.
The US Navy’s 7th Fleet deployed the USS Milius, a guided-missile destroyer, within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef on Monday, which is 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 China Sea’s hotly contested Spratly Islands.
The US military has been conducting “freedom of navigation” operations for years to challenge China’s broad territorial claims in the busy seaway.
The 7th Fleet stated, “As long as some 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.
No member of the international community should be intimidated or coerced into giving up their rights and freedoms.”