China's Dominance

U.S.-Philippine Drills in Northern Philippines Amidst China Tensions

Main image to the post U.S.-Philippine Drills in Northern Philippines Amidst China Tensions

U.S. and Philippine Forces Conduct Large-Scale Drills in Northern Philippines

U.S. and Philippine forces recently conducted large-scale combat drills in Itbayat, the northernmost island town of the Philippines. The exercises, part of the annual Balikatan maneuvers, involved over 16,000 personnel, marking the largest drills to date. This comes amidst China's increasingly assertive actions in the disputed South China Sea, where tensions have escalated between Chinese and Philippine coast guards.

The drills aimed to deter potential aggression and improve emergency response in disaster-prone regions of the Philippines. However, this year's exercises notably emphasized territorial defense in sensitive areas, including the South China Sea and the Bashi Channel. The Bashi Channel, vital for trade and laden with international undersea cables, has become a key area of contention. China views Taiwan as part of its territory and closely monitors the strategic waterway.

The exercises come amid escalating tensions between China and the U.S., with Chinese President Xi Jinping warning against Taiwan's independence efforts and criticizing U.S. support for the island. President Joe Biden has raised concerns about China's actions in the South China Sea, including obstructing Philippine resupply efforts.

Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at RAND Corporation, said the message of deterrence was important. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s decision to allow U.S. forces indefinite access to two Philippine air force and naval bases in Cagayan province near Batanes under a 2014 defense pact, "would likely upgrade the U.S. military's ability to intervene in a Taiwan contingency in a more timely manner," he said.

As part of the Balikatan exercises, joint naval sails by the U.S., France, and the Philippines have included live-fire drills in the contested waters of the South China Sea. During these maneuvers, an aircraft was also deployed to drop essential supplies onto a disputed island currently occupied by Filipino forces.

In a separate event on May 6, U.S. and Philippine forces conducted drills to repel potential invaders in the coastal province of Ilocos Norte, which directly borders the South China Sea. The exercises involved firing missiles and artillery rounds at floating targets positioned at sea.

Reflecting on the drills, Marine Lt. Gen. Michael Cederholm expressed satisfaction with the outcome, stating, "It was a huge success, the weapons were spot on."

The drills have drawn criticism from China, which sees them as a concerted effort to counter Beijing's influence. China has also expressed concern over the deployment of a U.S. ground-launched missile system in the Philippines, viewing it as a provocative move. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian expressed China's grave concern over deploying the missile system "at China's doorstep.

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May 21, 2023 | 05:09