The United States armies and Philippines began their largest joint military exercises in history on Tuesdaysome maneuvers that consolidate the renewed military alliance between the two countries in full escalation of tensions with Beijing in the south china sea and around taiwan. “Through these exercises, U.S. and Philippine forces will enhance their interoperability, increase their competencies, and complement their capabilities through collaboration, ensuring they are prepared to respond together to real-world challenges,” said the US Marine Cmdr. , Eric Austin, during the opening ceremony held this Tuesday in Manila.
The annual exercises, called “Balikatan”, will bring together more than 17,600 troops this year (12,200 US soldiers, 5,400 Filipinos), almost double the number in 2022, will include live fire with Patriot missiles and Avengers defense systems for the first time and will be held from this Tuesday until April 27, as confirmed to EFE by a Philippine Army spokesman.
In addition, added this source, they will fire HIMARS missiles at a disabled fishing boat in the province of Zambales, northwest of the archipelago and close to Bajo del Masinloc, an atoll located in Philippine territorial waters that China invaded in 2012 as part of its “historic claims” in the South China Sea (referred to as the West Philippine Sea by the Philippines).
For Australian National University emeritus professor Carlile Thayer, specializing in Southeast Asia, “The insights used in this exercise could be applied to the sinking of a Chinese warship.”says today in a note.
show of force
This “Balikatan”, noticeably more numerous in troops, in military deployment and intensity of live fire, It is the most powerful exercise since these maneuvers were inaugurated 39 years ago, and it is also about greater breadth to date in any of the modalities of exercises existing between both countries, They confirmed to EFE from the Philippine Army. The maneuvers serve as the icing on the cake for the strengthened military alliance between Washington and Manila to curb China’s expansionist ambitions in the South China Sea and in Taiwan.
Last week, The Philippines announced the four new military bases in the archipelago to which US troops will have access (bringing the total to nine), one of them in the northernmost part of the archipelago, about 400 kilometers from Taiwan, while another is on the island of Balabac, close to the islands that Beijing and Manila dispute in the China Sea Southern.
It was precisely there, near the Spratly archipelago, that the US sent its destroyer USS Milius on Monday, an action China condemned on the grounds that Beijing has “indisputable sovereignty” over the islands and their adjacent waters.
The US show of force coincides with the end on the eve of Chinese military maneuvers around Taiwan simulating the blockade of the self-governing island whose sovereignty is claimed by Beijing, in retaliation for the meeting last Wednesday in California between the president Taiwanese Tsai Ing-wen and the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy.
I play two sides
For his part, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., tried to calm things down yesterday, assuring that China should not worry about the location of the bases to which the US will have access, since, “if nobody attacks us, they do not have to worry because we will not launch an offensive.” “What we are doing is continuing to strengthen the defense of our territory,” he added.
Although since he came to power in June Marcos Jr. has strengthened his ties with the US, after the turn towards China of the former Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte (2016-2022), he also tries to maintain harmony with Beijing, his largest trading partner.
A difficult balancing game while The Philippines and the US invigorate their relations: In parallel, this Tuesday the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, will meet with his Philippine counterpart, Eric Manalo, in Washington, before the visit of the head of Washington’s diplomacy to Vietnam and Japan in the coming days. The United States is the only country that has a Mutual Defense Agreement with the Philippines, signed in 1951 at the height of the Cold War, according to which both countries would defend each other in the event of an attack by a third party.