US, Philippines war games set to irk China
SAN ANTONIO (LUZON) — In a show of their fast-expanding military ties, United States and Philippine marines yesterday launched war games along disputed waters that are likely to further stoke tensions with China.
The annual, three-week exercises were launched at a naval base in San Antonio, a town on the western coast of Luzon island that faces the South China Sea. It is about 220km from Scarborough Shoal, one of the flashpoint areas in the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China.
About 2,300 marines from both sides took part in the manoeuvres yesterday, which came ahead of US President Barack Obama’s planned first visit to the Philippines next month.
Philippine military officials welcomed the exercises, saying they are “essential in our cooperation and operational readiness as a multi-capable force, ready to defend our country’s sovereignty and integrity”.
The Philippine-US Amphibious Landing Exercises will involve two US warships and live ground fire exercises, according to the military.
Brigadier-General Remigio Valdez, the Filipino exercises commander, said they would include mock assaults to retake islands held by hostile forces, though he said they were not designed for Scarborough Shoal.
“We are building our capability on amphibious operations, so it’s part of the scenario,” he said.
The South China Sea is claimed almost in its entirety by China, which has run up against competing claims by several other countries including Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.
The Philippines claims several islands in the Spratlys group and other shoals in the South China Sea within the 200-km exclusive economic zone.
Last year, both neighbours had a stand-off at the Scarborough Shoal and this month, the Philippines accused China of building structures in the shoal that could lead to a more permanent presence. The Philippines has also brought its territorial dispute with China before a United Nations tribunal for arbitration.