MANILA (AP) -- Tuesday's largest combat exercise between the United States and Philippines in decades will include live-fire drills and a boat-sinking missile attack in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait. This will likely to inflame China.
The annual drills of the long-standing treaty allies known as Balikatan (Tagalog for shoulder to shoulder) will take place from April 28 through 28, and will involve more than 17,600 military personnel. This will be Washington's latest demonstration of American firepower against Asia, where Washington has warned China repeatedly about its aggressive actions in the disputed maritime channel and against Taiwan.
To better counter China, the Biden administration has been strengthening a arc of alliances throughout the Indo-Pacific. This includes a potential confrontation with Taiwan.
This is in line with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s efforts to defend the Philippines' territorial interests in South China Sea. The Philippines has increased joint military exercises with the U.S., and allowed rotating batches of American troops to remain in more Philippine military bases under a 2014 defense agreement.
The exercises are the largest in Balikatan’s three-decade history. They include 12,200 U.S. military personnel, 5,400 Filipino troops, and 111 Australian counterparts. According to U.S. military officials, the Philippine military will be displaying America's warships and fighter jets as a well as its Patriot missiles and rocket launchers, HIMARS rocket launchers, and anti-tank Javelins.
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Before the opening of the maneuvers, Col. Michael Logico, a Philippine spokesman, stated to reporters that he was not provoking anyone by simply exercising.
Logico stated that "This is actually a type of deterrence." "Deterrence means that we discourage other parties from invading our territory."
Logico stated that the allied forces would conduct a live fire drill offshore. He said U.S. forces and Filipino forces would sink a target vessel measuring 200 feet (61 meters) in Philippine territorial waters. The incident occurred in a coordinated airstrike/artiller bombardment.
"We will hit it using all the weapons systems we have, both navy, and ground," Logico stated.
Although China would be likely to be alarmed by the location, which is across the South China Sea and the waters of the Taiwan Strait, Philippine military officials claimed that the maneuver was intended to strengthen the country's coast defense and not at any other country.
These field scenarios would "test the allies' abilities in combined arms live fire, information and intelligence sharing communication between maneuver units logistics operations, amphibious operation," the U.S Embassy in Manila stated.
Washington and Beijing are on a collision course over long-seeded territorial disputes involving China and the Philippines, as well as Beijing's goal to annexe Taiwan by force, if necessary.
China warned last week against an intensifying U.S. military presence in the region. Mao Ning, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, stated in Beijing during a regular news briefing that this would only lead to increased tensions and less stability in the region.
After China's three-day combat drills, which simulate sealing Taiwan off, ended last week in China, the Philippines opened Balikatan exercises. This was in response to Beijing's anger at Tsai Ingwen's meeting in California with Kevin McCarthy, House Speaker.
The U.S. 7th Fleet deployed the guided-missile destroyer USS Milius to within 12 nautical mile of Mischief Reef. This is a Manila-claimed coral reef that China took in the mid-90s. It was turned into one of seven missile protected island bases in South China Sea's highly contested Spratlys archipelago. For years, the U.S. military has undertaken such 'freedom-of-navigation' operations to challenge China's extensive territorial claims in this busy seaway.
The 7th Fleet stated that 'As long some countries continue to claim or assert rights limits that exceed their authority according to international law, the United States would continue to defend rights and freedoms on the sea guaranteed for all'. "No member of international community should be coerced or intimidated into giving up their rights, freedoms and privileges.