Philippines And US Taunt China With Sensational War Games

Mike Leslie
April 19, 2024

As tensions escalate in the South China Sea, the Philippines and the United States prepare to hold a joint military exercise next week.

Inputs that matter: The Philippines and the United States will conduct joint naval drills beyond the 12 nautical miles of the Philippines’ territorial waters in parts of open sea claimed by China.

  • More than 16,000 soldiers from the two militaries will operate out of a joint command center to perform four significant activities focusing on countering maritime and air attacks.
  • In the first, troops will simultaneously secure two islands along the western and northern coasts of the Philippines before transporting High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers onto the islands for live-firing exercises.
  • Next, Philippine naval vessels will debut a newly procured ship-based missile system, working with U.S. Air Force squadrons to strike and sink a decommissioned ship.

The opportunity: Last year, the U.S. secured access to four new staging sites in the Philippines, three of which will be part of this year’s Balikatan exercises.

  • China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian warns, "Attempts to bring in external forces to safeguard its so-called security will only lead to greater insecurity for itself."
  • He explains that Manila should be "sober enough to realize" the consequences.

Zoom in: "It will be the first time the mega drills are being carried out beyond Philippine territorial waters," said Michael Logico, a Philippine army colonel overseeing the exercises.

  • "The goal is to make our forces plug-and-play," said U.S. Marine Col. Doug Krugman, who led planning for the Marine Corps’ participation.
  • Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad, a spokesman for the Philippine Navy, said the message that the Philippines wants to broadcast is simple: "We are not alone. And we’re ready to defend our sovereign rights."

Between the lines: In 2019, the Solomon Islands switched its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China. Sogavare then signed a series of security-related agreements with China, including a security pact in 2022 and a police cooperation agreement in 2023.

  • So far, the Solomon Islands hasn’t revealed details, but a leaked draft agreement shows that China could potentially deploy security and naval assets to the country.
  • "China has had success in presenting itself as a security stakeholder in the region, and this is certainly of concern to Canberra, Wellington, and Washington, who view China’s security interests in the Pacific as disruptive and indicative of China’s broader interests," Anna Powles, an associate professor in security studies at Massey University in New Zealand, told Voice of America.

Follow the money: The Philippines defended its decision to strengthen ties with the US and Japan.

  • China has been accused of using "gray-zone" harassment tactics such as shining military-grade lasers, firing water cannons, and ramming into vessels, escalating tensions.
  • Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles explains, "The uncertainty and tensions of entrenched and increasing strategic completion between the United States and China characterize our environment."

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