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Balikatan drills focus on potential flashpoints

THOUSANDS of Filipino and American troops kicked off joint Balikatan military exercises on Monday, concentrating in the northern and western parts of the nation, near the potential flashpoints of the South China Sea and Taiwan.

Contrary to international opinion, China claims almost the entire waterway, a key route for international trade. Beijing also considers self-ruled Taiwan to be part of its territory.

“We’re going to show the people of the Philippines and the world that we’ve gotten better, and we’re never going to stop doing so,” Lt. Gen. William Jurney, commander of US Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, said at the opening ceremony in Manila.

US exercise director for Balikatan Lieutenant General William Jurney talks during the opening ceremony of the 'Balikatan' joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFPUS exercise director for Balikatan Lieutenant General William Jurney talks during the opening ceremony of the ‘Balikatan’ joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFP

(From left) Philippines exercise director for Balikatan Major General Marvin Licudine, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner, US embassy in the Philippines Chargé d’Affaires Robert Ewing, Armed Forces of the Philippines deputy Chief of Staff for Education, Training and Doctrine Major General Noel Beleran and US exercise director for Balikatan Lieutenant General William Jurney link arms during the opening ceremony of the 'Balikatan' joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFP(From left) Philippines exercise director for Balikatan Major General Marvin Licudine, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner, US embassy in the Philippines Chargé d’Affaires Robert Ewing, Armed Forces of the Philippines deputy Chief of Staff for Education, Training and Doctrine Major General Noel Beleran and US exercise director for Balikatan Lieutenant General William Jurney link arms during the opening ceremony of the ‘Balikatan’ joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFP

Philippines Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner talks during the opening ceremony of the 'Balikatan' joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFPPhilippines Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner talks during the opening ceremony of the ‘Balikatan’ joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFP

US marines Lieutenant General William Jurney, US exercise director, speaks during a press conference at the military headquarters in Manila on April 22, 2024, after the opening ceremony of the Philippine and US annual joint military exercise. PHOTO BY TED ALJIBE / AFPUS marines Lieutenant General William Jurney, US exercise director, speaks during a press conference at the military headquarters in Manila on April 22, 2024, after the opening ceremony of the Philippine and US annual joint military exercise. PHOTO BY TED ALJIBE / AFP

(From left) Philippines exercise director for Balikatan Major General Marvin Licudine, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner, US embassy in the Philippines Chargé d’Affaires Robert Ewing, Armed Forces of the Philippines deputy Chief of Staff for Education, Training and Doctrine Major General Noel Beleran and US exercise director for Balikatan Lieutenant General William Jurney pose with the exercise flag during the opening ceremony of the 'Balikatan' joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFP(From left) Philippines exercise director for Balikatan Major General Marvin Licudine, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner, US embassy in the Philippines Chargé d’Affaires Robert Ewing, Armed Forces of the Philippines deputy Chief of Staff for Education, Training and Doctrine Major General Noel Beleran and US exercise director for Balikatan Lieutenant General William Jurney pose with the exercise flag during the opening ceremony of the ‘Balikatan’ joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFP

Philippines exercise director for Balikatan Major General Marvin Licudine (left) and US exercise director for Balikatan Lieutenant General William Jurney (R) unfurl the exercise flag during the opening ceremony of the 'Balikatan' joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFPPhilippines exercise director for Balikatan Major General Marvin Licudine (left) and US exercise director for Balikatan Lieutenant General William Jurney (R) unfurl the exercise flag during the opening ceremony of the ‘Balikatan’ joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFP

US embassy in the Philippines Chargé d’Affaires Robert Ewing talks during the opening ceremony of the 'Balikatan' joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFPUS embassy in the Philippines Chargé d’Affaires Robert Ewing talks during the opening ceremony of the ‘Balikatan’ joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFP

Philippines exercise director for Balikatan Major General Marvin Licudine (left) and US exercise director for Balikatan Lieutenant General William Jurney (right) unfurl the exercise flag during the opening ceremony of the 'Balikatan' joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFPPhilippines exercise director for Balikatan Major General Marvin Licudine (left) and US exercise director for Balikatan Lieutenant General William Jurney (right) unfurl the exercise flag during the opening ceremony of the ‘Balikatan’ joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFP

US marines Lieutenant General William Jurney (left), US exercise director, speaks while Philippine exercise director army Major General Marvin Lucudine listens during a press conference at the military headquarters in Manila on April 22, 2024, after the opening ceremony of the Philippine and US annual joint military exercise. PHOTO BY ALJIBE / AFPUS marines Lieutenant General William Jurney (left), US exercise director, speaks while Philippine exercise director army Major General Marvin Lucudine listens during a press conference at the military headquarters in Manila on April 22, 2024, after the opening ceremony of the Philippine and US annual joint military exercise. PHOTO BY ALJIBE / AFP

Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Rear Admiral Armando Balilo speaks during a press conference at the military headquarters in Manila on April 22, 2024, after the opening ceremony of the Philippine and US annual joint military exercise. PHOTO BY TED ALJIBE / AFPPhilippine Coast Guard spokesperson Rear Admiral Armando Balilo speaks during a press conference at the military headquarters in Manila on April 22, 2024, after the opening ceremony of the Philippine and US annual joint military exercise. PHOTO BY TED ALJIBE / AFP

US marines Lieutenant General William Jurney (left), US exercise director, speaks while Philippine exercise director army Major General Marvin Lucudine listens during a press conference at the military headquarters in Manila on April 22, 2024, after the opening ceremony of the Philippine and US annual joint military exercise. PHOTO BY TED ALJIBE/ AFPUS marines Lieutenant General William Jurney (left), US exercise director, speaks while Philippine exercise director army Major General Marvin Lucudine listens during a press conference at the military headquarters in Manila on April 22, 2024, after the opening ceremony of the Philippine and US annual joint military exercise. PHOTO BY TED ALJIBE/ AFP

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner (right) puts a patch on Philippines exercise director for Balikatan Major General Marvin Licudine (left) during the opening ceremony of the 'Balikatan' joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFPArmed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner (right) puts a patch on Philippines exercise director for Balikatan Major General Marvin Licudine (left) during the opening ceremony of the ‘Balikatan’ joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFP

US exercise director for Balikatan Lieutenant General William Jurney (left) talks during the opening ceremony of the 'Balikatan' joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFPUS exercise director for Balikatan Lieutenant General William Jurney (left) talks during the opening ceremony of the ‘Balikatan’ joint military exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, on April 22, 2024. PHOTO BY JAM STA ROSA / AFP

“When we get better, the Philippines gets stronger, safer and more secure.”

In response to China’s growing influence, the United States has been bolstering alliances with countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including the Philippines.

Washington and Manila are treaty allies and have deepened their defense cooperation since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office in 2022.

While the Philippines is poorly armed, its proximity to the South China Sea and Taiwan would make it a key partner for the United States in the event of a conflict with China.

“The purpose of armed forces, why we exist, is really to prepare for war,” Col. Michael Logico, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman on Balikatan, told reporters ahead of the drills.

“There’s no sugarcoating it… for us not to prepare, that’s a disservice to the country.”

The Philippine Coast Guard will join Balikatan for the first time following several confrontations between its vessels and the China Coast Guard, which patrols reefs off the Philippines’ coast.

The joint drills involve a simulation of an armed recapture of an island in Palawan province, the nearest major Philippine landmass to the hotly disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

The same exercise will be held in the northern provinces of Cagayan and Batanes, both less than 300 kilometers from Taiwan.

Like last year, a vessel will be sunk off the northern province of Ilocos Norte.

Other training will concern information warfare, maritime security, and integrated air and missile defense.

The United States has deployed its Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) guided missiles to the Philippines for Balikatan, but Logico said the weapons would not be used in the drills.

China’s foreign ministry has accused the United States of “stoking military confrontation” and warned the Philippines to “stop sliding down the wrong path.”

The exercises, which will run until May 10, will involve around 11,000 American and 5,000 Filipino troops and Australian and French military personnel.

France, which is participating in Balikatan for the first time, will deploy a warship that will take part in a joint exercise with Philippine and US vessels.

Fourteen countries in Asia and Europe will join as observers.

In another first, the drills will go beyond the Philippines’ territorial waters, which extend about 22 kilometers from its coastline, Logico said.

AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner said Balikatan was an “extraordinary opportunity for us to deepen our collaborations with friends, partners and allies.”

“It is not a partnership of convenience but rather a clear reflection of our shared history, unwavering commitment to democracy and respect for international law in our pursuit of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region,” Brawner said.

Representatives from India, Japan, New Zealand, Germany, South Korea, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Asean nations will be participating in this year’s war games as observers.

Jurney said Balikatan will include many different exercises to improve the mutual development of military operations.

“We increased the scope, scale and complexity in this Balikatan, and we have increased our combined combat readiness, interoperability and opportunities to improve upon us,” Journey said.

US-led ships will navigate alongside vessels from France, Australia and the Philippines and will cruise beyond the 24 nautical miles of the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea.

Philippine Exercise Director Maj. Gen. Marvin Licudine said, “It’s the first time that we are going beyond our 24 nautical miles, but it’s not really addressed at any [specific] aggressors. It’s more [focused on] the development of interoperability, our collective efforts, and protection of international law.”

“Through the Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept (CADC) that we recently developed, we aim to enhance our defense capabilities, cooperation and military-to-military collaboration for generations to come,” Brawner said.

“It also represents an extraordinary opportunity for us to deepen our collaborations with friends, partners and allies,” Brawner said.

US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Y. Robert Ewing said Balikatan was more than just a showcase of military readiness.

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Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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