US, Philippines sink decommissioned warship near China-claimed shoal
Manila, Apr 26 (EFE).- The United States and the Philippines sank a decommissioned ship near a shoal seized by China in Philippine territorial waters in the South China Sea on Wednesday.
“Approximately 1,400 Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Coast Guardsmen from both countries took part in the training, which involved detecting, identifying, targeting and engaging a target ship using a variety of ground and air-based weapons systems,” the armed forces of both countries said in a joint statement.
During the drill, which was part of the Balikatan annual joint military maneuvers, the largest such exercise between Washington and Manila since they began 38 years ago, “US and Philippine weapons platforms delivered coordinated fires on a target ship, a decommissioned Philippine Navy corvette towed into Philippine territorial waters,” the militaries said.
“Bilateral weapons systems consisted of US and Philippine artillery, High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, Avenger air defense systems, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters” among others, the statement added.
The maneuver was carried out in the waters of the Zambales province, located near Scarborough Shoal, which China forcibly took control of in 2012 in the South China Sea, thereby intensifying the conflict between Beijing and Manila over the sovereignty over a handful of islets and reefs in these waters.
The atoll is located some 119 nautical miles from the northwestern Philippine coast, within the 200 nautical mile limit established by the United Nations to determine the maritime sovereignty of countries, according to a convention which China ratified in 1996.
China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, is also locked in a sovereignty dispute with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and other countries in the region.
“The training event represented a tangible demonstration of the US-Philippine commitment to strengthen military capabilities and interoperability to meet shared modern-day security challenges,” the militaries said with regard to the drill, which was watched live by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
The military maneuvers between the Philippines and the US on Philippine soil come amid escalating tensions between Manila and Beijing due to several reasons.
For one, the territorial conflict between the two countries in the South China Sea has worsened, following recent complaints by the Philippines that Chinese ships directed military-grade lasers at its coast guard.
Beijing has also strongly objected to the new military agreement between the US and the Philippines, announced on Apr. 3 and which gives US troops access to four new bases on Philippine soil, including one located about 400 kilometers from Taiwan, a self-ruling island that Beijing has not ruled out invading and that Washington would in principle defend.
Another of the bases is located near the disputed islands in the Spratly archipelago.
China has described the agreement as a “provocation,” and the Chinese ambassador in Manila, Huang Xilian, raised tensions further on Apr. 14 by warning that the Philippines should worry about the security of the over 150,000 Filipinos living in Taiwan. EFE