U.S. Military Action Spotted As Drills Increase

On Tuesday, armed forces from the US and the Philippines launched their largest joint combat exercises in decades along the waters of the Taiwan Strait and the disputed South China Sea, the Associated Press reported.

The annual joint exercises, called Balikatan (Tagalog for “shoulder-to-shoulder”), will involve over 17,600 military personnel and run through April 28.

The drills are the latest display of US firepower in Asia as the Biden administration seeks to strengthen alliances in the region to counter China.

Additionally, the Philippines is increasing its efforts to defend its territorial interests in the disputed South China Sea, which China claims for itself, by increasing joint military drills with the US while allowing rotating groups of US forces to stay in Philippine military camps as part of a 2014 defense pact.

The exercises will involve around 12,200 US and 5,400 Filipino military personnel, along with 111 Australian counterparts, making this the largest joint exercise since Balikatan began thirty years ago.

According to US and Philippine military officials, this year’s Balikatan drills will include US warships and fighter jets, as well as HIMARS rocket launchers, Patriot missiles, and anti-tank Javelins. It will also include the first live-fire drill in which US and Filipino forces, in a coordinated artillery bombardment and airstrike, will sink a target ship in Philippine territorial waters.

In a press conference, Col. Michael Logico, the Philippine spokesman for Balikatan, said the live-fire drill will simulate what to expect in an actual threat where the Philippines are invaded by sea. 

When asked if President Marcos has concerns about Beijing being antagonized by live rocket fire near waters China considers its territory, Logico said Marcos didn’t bring that up when he was briefed about the live-fire drill.

In a press briefing last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said the increased US military deployment in the region would lead to more tensions while harming the “peace and stability in the region.”