China warns of U.S. and Philippines combat drills

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — China on Wednesday warned that a deepening security alliance between the United States and the Philippines should not compromise its security and territorial interests, and should not meddle in long-simmering territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

When asked to comment on combat drills between American and Filipino forces that began in the Philippines on Tuesday, the Chinese embassy in Manila issued a statement on Wednesday from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, who said such drills “are not should target third party and should be conducive to peace and stability in the region.”

Wang did not say how China would react if it concluded that US-Philippine security cooperation hurt Beijing’s core interests.

In Washington on Tuesday, US and Philippine defense and foreign ministers met to discuss the development of nine Philippine military camps that will allow American forces to remain indefinitely under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

“These locations will support combined training exercises and interoperability between our forces to ensure we are even better prepared for future crises,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said. He added the US is providing more than $100 million to build infrastructure at the locations where Americans would be stationed.

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China has strongly opposed this deal, which would allow US forces to set up military staging areas and surveillance outposts in the northern Philippines across the Taiwan Strait and in the western Philippine provinces overlooking the disputed South China Sea, which Beijing has virtually in claimed in its entirety for historical reasons. Washington denies China’s claims.

Austin said he also spoke with his Philippine counterpart, Carlito Galvez, about U.S. shipments of much-needed defense equipment, including radars, unmanned aerial systems, military transport aircraft, and coastal and air defense systems, to the Philippines over the next five to 10 years, according to the Security Assistance Roadmap .

This year’s Balikatan exercises between the parties are the largest since the two sides began joint military combat readiness exercises in the early 1990s. They run until April 28 and include more than 17,600 American and Filipino employees and a small Australian contingent. About a dozen countries, including Japan and India but not China, sent observers, organizers said.

In a live-fire exercise that will be conducted by the Allies for the first time, U.S. and Philippine forces will sink a ship in Philippine territorial waters off the western province of Zambales in a coordinated coastal artillery bombardment and air strike April 26, Col. Michael Logico, a Philippine spokesman for Balikatan, told reporters Tuesday.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has been briefed on the live-fire exercise and plans to see it, Logico said.

In Palawan, which faces the South China Sea, exercises will include beach raids and retaking an island captured by enemy forces, Logico said.

Marcos, who took office in June last year, has maintained closer ties with Washington than his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, who often lashed out at US security policy while praising China and Russia. Duterte attempted to rescind a key defense pact that would have prevented American forces from entering the Philippines for large-scale warfare exercises, but later backed down from those efforts.

The drills are the latest display of American firepower in Asia as the Biden administration strengthens an arc of alliances to better confront China, including a possible confrontation over Taiwan, an island democracy Beijing claims.

This fits with efforts by the Marcos-led Philippines to defend its territorial interests in the South China Sea.

The ongoing exercises, which began in the early 1990s, will demonstrate US warships, fighter jets, Patriot missiles, HIMARS missile launchers and anti-tank spears, according to US and Philippine military officials.

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