The Philippines and the US launch joint exercises amid concerns in China
By Adrian Portugal
FORT MAGSAYSAY, Philippines (Reuters) – The Philippines and the United States on Monday launched army-to-army exercises focused on improving the Southeast Asian nation’s ability to guard and defend its territory from external threats.
The drills follow President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s decision last month to expand United States access to his country’s military bases — a move that has infuriated China as the Philippines is seen as the linchpin of the geopolitical rivalry between the two countries both great powers are considered.
More than 3,000 Filipino and US soldiers will take part in the three-week annual exercise called Salaknib, which includes multiple small arms fire drills, artillery and mortar fire events, and construction projects.
“The scenarios would involve defending the Philippine archipelago from potential foreign attackers,” Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner, chief of the Philippine Army, told reporters after the opening ceremony.
“Because this is an army-to-army exercise, we will focus on defensive operations such as air defense and also on our offshore defenses,” he added.
Most activities will take place at Fort Magsaysay, the Philippines’ largest military camp and one of the five existing sites to which the United States has access under its Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with Manila. Under the agreement, the United States can use the bases for joint training, equipment prepositioning, and construction of facilities such as airstrips, fuel storage facilities, and military housing, but not to maintain a permanent presence.
China has criticized the expanded deal, calling it “part of US efforts to encircle and contain China through its military alliance with that country.”
“By doing so, the US has not only increased tensions, driving a wedge between China and the Philippines, but also disrupted and disrupted the joint efforts of countries in this region to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea,” the Chinese embassy spokesman said in Manila in a statement on Sunday.
The Philippines has yet to disclose the additional bases the United States will have access to, but a former military chief said they include bases on the island of Luzon, which faces north towards Taiwan, and on Palawan to the southwest, in near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
(Edit by Kanupriya Kapoor)