Philippines, US launch annual joint military drills

Thousands of Filipino and American troops kicked off joint military exercises in the Philippines on Monday, as Beijing's growing assertiveness in the region raises fears of a conflict.

The annual drills — dubbed Balikatan, or "shoulder to shoulder" in Tagalog — will be concentrated in the northern and western parts of the archipelago nation, near the potential flashpoints of the South China Sea and Taiwan.

China claims almost the entire waterway, a key route for international trade, and 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," Lieutenant General William Jurney, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, said at the opening ceremony in Manila.

"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 defence cooperation since Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos 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," Philippine Colonel Michael Logico 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...

Continue reading on: