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US, Philippines launch largest joint military exercises

The joint military drills are part of the US effort to strengthen its alliances in the Indo-Pacific to counter China's aggressive actions in the region

Update : 11 Apr 2023, 04:23 PM

The United States and the Philippines have launched their largest joint military exercises in decades, with over 17,600 military personnel taking part in the drills.

The annual drills, called Balikatan, a Tagalog term for shoulder-to-shoulder, will run until April 28 and involve live-fire exercises, including a boat-sinking rocket assault in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. The drills are seen by experts as a challenge to China's dominance in the region.

"Through this exercise, the Philippine and US forces will sharpen our inter-operability, increase our proficiency and complement our capabilities through collaboration, ensuring we are prepared to respond to real-world challenges together," First US Marine Aircraft Wing commander Major-General Eric Austin said on Tuesday's opening ceremony in Manila.

The US has been strengthening its alliances in the Indo-Pacific to counter China's aggressive actions in the region, including those against Taiwan.

Exercises 'a form of deterrence'

The drills include 12,200 US military personnel, 5,400 Filipino forces, and 111 Australian soldiers. 

America's warships, fighter jets, Patriot missiles, HIMARS rocket launchers, and anti-tank Javelins will be showcased, according to US and Philippine military officials.

The Balikatan exercises will also test the allies' capabilities in combined arms live-fire, information and intelligence sharing, communications between maneuver units, logistics operations, and amphibious operations.

The exercises will include military helicopters landing on a Philippine island off the northern tip of the main island of Luzon, nearly 300 kilometers from Taiwan.

Philippine military officials said that the exercises were aimed at bolstering the country's coastal defense and were not directed at any country.

"We are not provoking anybody by simply exercising," Col. Michael Logico, a Philippine spokesman for Balikatan, said, calling it "a form of deterrence."

"Deterrence is when we are discouraging other parties from invading us," he said.

Washington, Beijing at odds

The drills follow China's three-day military operation that simulated targeted strikes and a blockade of Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory.

The Balikatan exercises will include a live-fire drill in the South China Sea, which China claims almost entirely.

The exercises are likely to rile China, which has becomeincreasingly aggressive in the disputed sea channel and against Taiwan.

"Countries in this part of the world must uphold strategic independence and firmly resist the Cold-War mentality and bloc confrontation," China's ambassador to Manila, Huang Xilian, said last week.

The territorial disputes among China, the Philippines, and four other governments, as well as China's ambition to take control of Taiwan by force if required, have put Washington and Beijing at odds.

China warns against US military deployment

Before the drills, the US 7th Fleet deployed a guided-missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, a Manila-claimed coral outcrop that China seized in the mid-1990s.

The US has been warning China over its increasingly aggressive actions in the disputed sea channel and against Taiwan, including through its deployment of warships and fighter jets in the region.

China last week in turn warned against the intensifying US military deployment to the region.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said in a regular news briefing in Beijing that it "would only lead to more tensions and less peace and stability in the region."

Taiwan detects Chinese warships around island

Meanwhile, the Taiwanese Defense ministry reported on Tuesday that it had identified 26 aircraft and nine Chinese warships near the island.

This occurred after Beijing announced an end to its extensive military exercises.

According to the ministry, China sent military planes across the median line from the north, center, and south regions in the morning.

The ministry confirmed that the vessels had been detected by 11:00 am, local time.

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