US, Philippines begin biggest joint military exercises in decades

Manila, Apr 11 (EFE).- The United States and Philippine armies began Tuesday the largest joint military exercises in more than 30 years, consolidating the renewed military alliance between the countries amid an escalation of tensions with Beijing in the South China Sea.

The annual exercises, called “Balikatan,” combine more than 17,000 troops this year (12,000 US soldiers and 5,000 Filipinos), almost double the number in 2022. They will include live fire with Patriot missiles and Avengers defense systems for the first time and will be held from Tuesday until Apr. 27, a Philippine Army spokesman told EFE.

It said they would fire HIMARS missiles at a disabled fishing boat in the province of Zambales, northwest of the archipelago, near Bajo de Masinloc, an atoll in Philippine territorial waters that China invaded in 2012 as part of its “historical claims” in the South China Sea.

This exercises, with more troops, military deployment and intensity of live fire, shows the strengthened military alliance between Washington and Manila to curb Beijing’s expansionist ambitions in the South China Sea and in Taiwan.

The Philippines announced the four new military bases last week 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, some 400 kilometers from Taiwan. The other is on Balabac Island, close to the islands disputed by Beijing and Manila in the South China Sea.

It was there, near the Spratly archipelago, that the US destroyer USS Milius sailed Monday, an action China condemned, saying Beijing has “indisputable sovereignty” over the islands and their adjacent waters.

The US show of force coincides with some Chinese military maneuvers around Taiwan that in recent days simulated the blockade of the island, whose sovereignty is claimed by Beijing. It came in retaliation for the Wednesday meeting in California between Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

US State Secretary Anthony Blinken will meet with members of the Philippine government Tuesday in Washington to discuss the growing tension in the South China Sea before his next visit to Vietnam and Japan. EFE


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