U.S., allies hold largest joint exercise amid tensions in China – Reuters

The wargame involving the Philippines will feature a live-fire exercise for the first time

The United States and the Philippines launched their largest-ever joint military exercise on Tuesday amid the continuing standoff with China.

The exercise, named “Balikatan 2023,” will last until April 28 and will involve about 12,200 Americans and 5,400 Filipinos, who will train for an amphibious assault and counterterrorism operations, among other tasks.

Balikatan exercises have been held every year since 1991 in accordance with the 1951 defense pact between the countries. Colonel Michael Logico, spokesman for the Philippine military, said this year’s wargame will include a live-fire exercise for the first time. He added that a decommissioned Philippine navy vessel will be sunk off Zambales in the north of the country.

“Balikatan offers unprecedented opportunities to demonstrate the strength and readiness of the Philippine-American security alliance,” Lt. Col. Daniel Huvane, Balikatan’s Joint Information Director, said earlier this month.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a group of students staged a protest outside the US Embassy in Manila with signs reading “No to American bases.” Police said paint was thrown at the US State Department sign and logo. Two people were delayed at the event.

The exercise began a day after China completed its own three-day war games in the Taiwan Strait, in which the People’s Liberation Army simulated strikes on Taiwan and surrounding waters. The exercise was launched in response to the visit of Tsai Ing-wen, the island’s president, to the United States. Beijing views Taiwan, which has been ruled by a separate government since the late 1940s, as its territory and views foreign relations with Taipei authorities as interference in its internal affairs.

The Philippines, which has a territorial dispute with Beijing over a group of small islands in the South China Sea, this month allowed the United States to station troops at four additional bases across the country. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. says the sites would not be used for “offensive acts”.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila warned last month that strengthening defense ties with the United States “drag the Philippines into the abyss of geopolitical conflict.” On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said US-Philippine cooperation “must not interfere in disputes in the South China Sea” and otherwise harm Beijing’s interests.

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