SUBIC BAY: The United States and the Philippines kicked off joint naval exercises yesterday in the South China Sea near waters claimed by Beijing, amid tense territorial rows between China and its neighbours.
Filipino military officials said the week-long manoeuvres, involving three US warships and more than a thousand servicemen, would address Manila’s “capability gaps” as well as testing its newest military vessels.
The Philippines is engaged in a bitter territorial dispute with China over parts of the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety.
China has increasingly asserted its claims to the sea, which are believed to harbour vast oil and gas deposits, and parts of which are also claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Beijing placed an oil rig in disputed waters last month, sparking deadly anti-China riots in Vietnam.
Philippine officers said the annual war games, involving more than a thousand US personnel and about 400 Filipino counterparts, would test the Philippines’ two newest warships -- a pair of decommissioned US coastguard cutters that were reconfigured into frigates.
“We committed two of our relatively new ships to participate in this exercise because we really wanted these ships to become proficient in what they do,” fleet commander Jaime Bernardino told reporters.
He added that the Philippines’ territorial waters are “very porous” to foreign vessels. “These are the gaps that we would like to address -- make sure we detect (foreign vessels) properly, we intercept them and we neutralise them if necessary.” AFP