The US and Philippine forces began a joint military drill on Monday amid increasing tensions between the Philippines, an American Asian ally, and China over territorial claims.
More than 5,000 troops from the United States and the Philippines launched the 10-day exercise, dubbed as Balikatan (Shoulder to Shoulder), to prepare to jointly deal with any potential crisis in the region.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, both American and Philippine military officials said Balikiton, the largest of several military drills the two countries stage annually, will concentrate on maritime security and disaster response.
The drill was set to be held in military camps in the northern and western Philippines, according to a Philippine military statement. It includes maritime surveillance exercises, live-fire drills, training on handling bombs and “mass casualty response.”
The exercise comes as tensions between China and the Philippines have been increasing over maritime and territorial disputes in recent months. The two countries have competing claims over a number of islands and shoals in the South China Sea.
Filipino Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Monday it was necessary to deal with “aggressive” neighbors’ intention on “changing the status quo,” without mentioning China.
The US and the Philippines last week signed an accord that would give the American military greater access to bases across the South East Asian nation.
Observers believe America’s effort to increase its presence in the region is aimed at containing China, which has emerged as the biggest threat to the US hegemony.
Beijing has already demanded that Washington stay out of regional disputes. But US President Barack Obama insists the new military pact is not designed to counter Chinese aggression in the region.