US And Regional Ally Start Large-Scale Military Drill In China’s Neighborhood

( — US and Philippine forces launched their largest military exercises in years on Monday near the disputed South China Sea in a show of joint firepower that has alarmed China, the Associated Press reported.

This year’s annual Balikatan (“Shoulder-to-Shoulder” in Tagalog) drills will be conducted through May 10 and involve over 16,000 forces from the United States and the Philippines, as well as a small contingent of Australian and French forces.

According to the Philippine military, while the exercises are not geared toward a specific country, some of the drills will be staged in or around the disputed areas of the South China Sea, where the country’s coast guard has confronted China’s coast guard in multiple territorial encounters over the last year.

In some of the encounters, Chinese vessels have resorted to water cannons, blocking Philippine vessels, and other dangerous maneuvers, leading to damaged supply ships and some injuries to Philippine naval personnel.

Philippine military spokesman Col. Michael Logico told the Associated Press that the focus for this year’s Balikatan drills is on protecting Philippine territory.

Amid the escalating disputes between the Philippines and China, the Biden administration has repeatedly warned Beijing that if the Philippines is attacked, the US would be obligated to defend its oldest treaty ally in the region

Lt. General William Jurney of the US Marine Corps said during Monday’s ceremony that this year’s exercises would reaffirm that the US/Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951 was “no mere piece of paper.”

Beijing criticized this year’s exercises, accusing the Philippines of “ganging up” with Western countries to undermine regional peace and stability and warning that the exercises could prompt a confrontation.

China opposed the transport of an American ground-launched missile system ahead of the exercises, with the Foreign Ministry protesting the deployment at “China’s doorstep.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian accused the US of exacerbating tensions and increasing the “risk of misjudgment and miscalculation.” Lin warned the Philippines against “being a cat’s paw” for the United States and urged it to stop its slide “down the wrong path.”

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