Philippines holds drill with US, Japan as tension soars

Manila increases naval cooperation with US as well as Japan amid South China Sea crisis where Beijing attempts at land reclamation through building artificial islands

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

The Philippines will hold naval drills separately with its regional allies the United States and Japan this week on a Filipino island near the disputed Spratly archipelago where China has been manifesting its territorial claims through artificial island buildings.

As being consisted of thousands of islands near the Chinese overseas in the Pacific Ocean, the Philippines is one of the most discontent parties against Beijing’s assertiveness in the maritime borders in the South and East China Seas.

Manila has recently enhanced security cooperation in the lack of its naval capabilities with its regional allies the US and Japan as well as Vietnam which became very outspoken against China in the past several months.

A Philippine military official said Manila will hold combined exercises with Washington and Tokyo naval forces on Palawan island, 160 km (100 miles) from the Spratly islands where China was claimed to have been building seven artificial islets in order to augment its territorial gains.

"At some point all three forces could merge in one activity because we only have two ships and limited aircraft to take part in these exercises," said the official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

It was reportedly said two P3C-Orion maritime surveillance planes belonging to the US and Japan had parked on a military airfield in Puerto Princesa City, the Palawan island’s capital.

The Filipino military officials said they already started naval drills with the US last week and would start with Japan on Tuesday for a two-day exercise in the Philippines’ territorial waters.

Beijing has blamed Japan for the move what it said was Japan's "meddling," according to Chinese official Xinhua agency.

“By muddying the waters in the South China Sea, Tokyo also aims to divert increasingly intensive global attention on Japan's lack of remorse over its atrocities during World War Two," Xinhua said in an English-language commentary.  

Japan has no direct territorial claims in the South China Sea, but long been worrying over China’s assertiveness due to its commercial interests bound by the navigation through the straits and maritime channels in the region.

The Philippines has been the loudest side against China’s territorial water claims so far in the region where the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been maintaining a neutral stance towards China despite the increasing worries of its members, including both Manila and Beijing.

China and the ASEAN bloc had signed an agreement to abstain from invading uninhabited reefs and shoals in the South China Sea, as well as from building new constructions that are believed to further complicate the issue of territorial disputes among the 10-member bloc.

The Philippines has warned the bloc countries several times in the days of yore unless the ASEAN halts “Chinese revisionism,” the area would be taken under the “de facto Beijing control” in the medium term.

Manila had also filed a lawsuit against the Chinese claims in the international Arbitration Tribunal in 2013, a move that caused further deterioration of the bilateral relations.

China has long been confronting with its maritime neighbours Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei in the South China Sea territorial waters.

The parties’ overlapping claims on maritime transportation, navigation, exclusive economic zones, fishing grounds, undersea bed gas and oil reserves have already escalated the problem as China started to build the artificial islands last year.

The Pentagon believes that China has added some 2,000 acres (800 hectares) to five outposts in the Spratlys, including 1,500 acres since the start of this year.

The US officials claim that Chinese military complexes are now under construction on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly island including a 3,000-metre runway and that airborne early warning radars will be operational by the year end.

The US administration has reiterated several times that it will continue to patrol waters and skies of the long-disputed waters on which the Chinese navy has repeatedly warned the US surveillance plane to leave the airspace over the islands.

The US Defense Secretary Ash Carter met with a top Chinese general early this month and repeated the Pentagon’s previous call for Beijing to end its military offensive through new land reclamation in the South China Sea.
Carter had previously called China for an immediate end to building artificial islands in the South China Sea and urged Beijing for a peaceful solution instead of militarising the region.


TRTWorld and agencies