Philippines, U.S. begin war games focusing on maritime threats

MANILA Mon May 5, 2014 8:44am EDT

U.S. and Filipino military officers salute during the opening ceremony of the Balikatan 2014 Joint Exercise inside the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon city, metro Manila May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

U.S. and Filipino military officers salute during the opening ceremony of the Balikatan 2014 Joint Exercise inside the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon city, metro Manila May 5, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

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MANILA (Reuters) - Thousands of Philippine and U.S. soldiers began annual war games on Monday, the first under a new security pact with the United States, focusing on maritime security in the face of China's growing naval presence in the disputed South China Sea.

The joint exercises "Balikatan" (shoulder-to-shoulder) would test the combat readiness of the two oldest allies in this part of the world to respond to any maritime threats, including piracy and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

The new security pact was signed last week just hours before U.S. President Barack Obama visited. Obama said the agreement was a testament to Washington's "pivot" to Asia and was an "ironclad" commitment to defend the Philippines.

The Philippines has territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea, which is said to be rich in energy deposits and carries about $5 billion in ship-borne trade every year. The Spratlys in the South China Sea are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

"Tensions in the Asia-Pacific region have increased due to excessive and expansive maritime and territorial claims, undermining the rule of law," Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said at the opening ceremony at the main army base in Manila.

"The aggressive patterns of behavior aimed at changing the status quo threaten peace and stability in the region. Balikatan 2014, with its focus on maritime security, strongly supports our capabilities to address these challenges."

Asked about the exercises, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said all sides needed to work "constructively" to maintain peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region.

"We hope that the relevant U.S.-Philippines drills can work in this direction," she told a daily news briefing.

On Saturday, a navy plane dropped food and water to troops stationed on a transport ship that ran aground on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea. Chinese coast guard ships have set up a blockade around the shoal.

Nearly 5,500 American and Filipino troops are taking part in the two-week drills in different parts of the main island of Luzon. The war games will see U.S. F-18 fighters rehearse bombing runs and troops involved in live fire drills.

Under a new security pact, the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement, signed last week during Obama's visit, the U.S. will have wider access to local bases and construct facilities to store supplies and equipment for 10 years in exchange for increased support on maritime security and humanitarian assistance.

The annual war games come under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, part of a web of security alliances the United States built in the Asia-Pacific region during the Cold War.

Dozens of leftwing activists protested outside the main army base in Manila, saying the Americans were using China as a bogeyman to gain a forward base in the Philippines.

"Our armed forces will not modernize just because we conduct war games with U.S. forces," said Renato Reyes, secretary-general of leftwing group Bayan (Nation).

"Our capacity to defend our territory against China will not be improved just because there are training exercises.

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez)

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Comments (3)
isthnu wrote:
Totally stunted military thinking and management of funds. There’s so much unemployment, hunger, homelessness, and other social issues rampant in both US and especially the host country, no wonder it’s already starting a backlash.

May 05, 2014 3:13pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
isthnu wrote:
Totally stunted military thinking and management of funds. There’s so much unemployment, hunger, homelessness, and other social issues rampant in both US and especially the host country, no wonder it’s already starting a backlash.

May 05, 2014 3:13pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
carlmartel wrote:
These exercises give the US and the Philippines practice defending Russian and Chinese shipments of refined petroleum products to compete against US refined petroleum products. The US spends $100 per barrel of oil, refines it, and ships higher dollar amounts of refined oil products to give the US a favorable balance of trade that amounts to about $100 billion per year. Russian and Chinese refineries will start with Russian crude, refine it, and send it shorter distances because Siberia is closer to the Far East than the US. Russia must only pay refinery costs and one half of US tanker costs, so Russia can greatly undercut US prices and take the $100 billion in profits for itself. China, Russia’s SCO ally, will gain payments to Chinese refineries. Fortunately, the US and Filipino navies and air forces will spend their money, burn their fuels, and use their man hours to protect these shipments that will take $100 billion in trade from the US and give it to Russia. Global trade benefits everyone, but it helps those with resources and short shipping distances more than their competitors, especially if those with resources and short shipping distances don’t engage in paranoid military exercises.

May 05, 2014 6:42pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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