Philippines - US continue naval exercises against China's warns
Soldiers from the Philippine Marines and US Marines take part in a mock assault of an island in Palawan, the Philippines on April 25, 2012...
The annual joint military exercise between the Philippines and the United States for 2012 was officially launched at a military camp in Manila on Monday.
The 12-day exercise started with a high-sounding opening ceremony attended by Philippine Armed Forces chief Gen. Jessie Dellosa and U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Tomas at the military's general headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.
At least 4,500 American and 2,300 Filipino troops will take part in the joint military exercise dubbed as "Balikatan" or " shoulder to shoulder", which will be running until April 27.
The joint exercises will be conducted simultaneously in different areas across the Philippines. It includes the live fire exercises in Nueva Ecija province in Luzon, the amphibious raid at Palawan, and the conduct of a command post exercise in Camp Aguinaldo where Filipino and U.S. soldiers, with the participation of several countries like Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia will simulate a response for a strong quake.
The Philippine military said the venue of the actual training exercises includes the South China Sea off Palawan where both forces will be pursuing amphibious exercises, and gas and oil platform defense and retake.
Prior to the exercise, Emmanuel Garcia, Balikatan public affairs officer, said Sunday the exercises is not in anyway related to the ongoing standoff between Philippine and Chinese ships at the Huangyan Island in South China Sea. He said the military training will be focused on maritime security, and counter-terrorism, among others. He said this is not meant against any country.
In an interview with radio dzRB on Sunday, Philippine deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Balikatan exercises have anything to do with the incident in the South China Sea, adding "the exercises are always scheduled in advance."
Philippines - U.S. stage war games in face of China warning
U.S. &Philippine commandos waded ashore on Wednesday in a mock assault to retake a small island in energy-rich waters disputed with China, part of a drill involving thousands of troops Beijing had said would raise the risk of armed conflict.
The exercises, part of annual U.S.-Philippine war games on the southwestern island of Palawan, coincide with another standoff between Chinese and Philippine vessels near Scarborough Shoal in a different part of the South China Sea.
China has territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan across the South China Sea, each searching for gas and oil while building up their navies and military alliances.
China said last week the drill would raise the risk of confrontation. On Wednesday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said China was committed to dialogue and diplomacy to resolve the dispute.
"We are certainly worried about the South China Sea issue," Cui told a news briefing in Beijing, saying "some people tried to mix two unrelated things, territorial sovereignty and freedom of navigation".
The comments come before high-level talks with the Obama administration. China, which claims the South China Sea based on historical records, has sought to resolve disputes bilaterally but its neighbours worry over what some see as growing Chinese assertiveness in its claims in the region.
"Location (of the drill) is irrelevant," Ensign Bryan Mitchell, spokesman for the U.S. Marines, told reporters.
"These exercises take place on a regular basis. This year it happens to be in Palawan. The planning for this took place months ago prior to any events that are currently in the headlines."
U.S. President Barack Obama has sought to reassure regional allies that Washington would serve as a counterbalance to China in the South China Sea, part of his campaign to "pivot" U.S. foreign policy towards Asia after wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Philippine military officials sought to play down the exercise. Lieutenant General Juancho Sabban, military commander for the western Philippines, said the drill "simply means we want to work together, improve our skills".
Sabban's area of command includes Reed Bank and the Spratlys, a group of 250 mostly uninhabitable islets spread over 427,350 sq km (165,000 sq miles) west of Palawan.
The Spratlys are claimed entirely by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and in part by Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.
HUGE OIL, GAS RESERVES
Proven and undiscovered oil reserve estimates in the South China Sea range as high as 213 billion barrels of oil, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a 2008 report. That would surpass every country's proven oil reserves except Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, according to the BP Statistical Review.
|Filipino and U.S. soldiers conduct a patrol during an ambush drill during a Philippine-U.S. troops joint military exercise in Ternate town, Cavite city, south of Manila April 19, 2012.|
A Philippine exploration firm, Philex Petroleum Corp, said on Tuesday its unit, Forum Energy Plc, had found more natural gas than expected around Reed Bank, where Chinese navy vessels tried to ram one of Forum Energy's survey ships last year.
The Philippines is due to open oil-and-gas exploration bids in Reed Bank on Friday.
Vietnam reasserted its claim to the Spratlys and the Paracel islands, known in Chinese as the Xisha islands, further west of Scarborough Shoal in what it calls the East Sea.
Self-ruled Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province, reiterated its claims over territories in the South China Sea and urged "countries concerned to exercise self-restraint so that peaceful resolutions can be reached through consultation".
Nearly 7,000 American and Philippine troops are taking part in the two-week drills that are taking place at sea and in different parts of the main Luzon island.
On Wednesday, about 100 commandos came ashore from U.S. and Philippine ships in a simulated amphibious assault at Palawan province to recapture an island supposedly taken by militants, officials said. Earlier estimates had put their number in the hundreds.
Jumping from rubber boats as they hit the shore, the commandos engaged in a mock firefight, making their way inch by inch from the beach to a navy facility to rescue "hostages" and recapture the base.
Four days ago, commando teams rappelled from U.S. helicopters and landed from rubber boats in a mock assault to retake an oil rig in the northern part of Palawan, 18 km (11 miles) off the town of El Nido on the South China Sea.
|Filipino and U.S. marine soldiers raise their firearms for photographs after their amphibious raid as part of a Philippine-U.S. joint military exercises in Ulugan bay, on the western coast of Philippines April 25, 2012. REUTERS|
The annual war games come under the 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty, part of a web of security alliances the United States built in the Asia-Pacific region during the Cold War.
The drills are a rehearsal of a mutual defence plan by the two allies to repel any aggression in the Philippines.
Hundreds of kilometres to the north, a Philippine coast guard ship patrols near Scarborough Shoal, a group of half-submerged rock formations 124 nautical miles west of the main Luzon island, where Chinese fishermen were accosted by Philippine officials three weeks ago, sparking the latest conflict between the two countries.
Manila officials say Chinese response on the Scarborough shoal issue was "based on inaccurate appreciation of the fact and dynamics of the negotiations."