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Annual U.S.-Philippine Military Exercises Expanded into Contested Areas This Year

April 18, 2024 (EIRNS)—Philippine and US forces will carry out their first-ever military exercises outside the Southeast Asian country’s territorial waters, into areas of the South China Sea contested by China.

The annual Balikatan or “shoulder-to-shoulder” drills, which will run from April 22 to May 10, will involve 16,700 soldiers simulating the retaking of enemy-occupied islands in areas facing Taiwan and the South China Sea.

It will also be the first time the Philippine Coast Guard will have taken part in military exercises. The coast guard has increasingly been at the forefront of clashes with China, around the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, where the Philippines intentionally grounded a warship in 1999 and has maintained soldiers on the ship since, as a claim to sovereignty.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said:

“Attempts to bring in external forces to safeguard its so-called security will only lead to greater insecurity for itself.”

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson Rear Adm. Armando Balilo said six PCG vessels would take part for the first time. A small French contingent will join this year’s drills for the first time since the annual exercise began in 1991, deploying a frigate that will sail jointly with Philippines and US naval vessels in Manila’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.

About 14 nations will join as observers, including Japan, India, and countries in ASEAN and the European Union.