The navies of the Philippines and China will launch their first-ever joint maritime drills, alongside ships from other Asean members.
Despite the ongoing disputes over the South China Sea, the Philippines will join the exercises hosted by China in Zhanjiang from October 22 to 29, Defense spokesman Arsenio Andolong told reporters today (Monday, October 8).
Details of the exercises, including which Philippine vessels will participate, has not been revealed.
“At the moment, the only thing certain are the dates which is and that the Philippines is participating,” he said. He added that Navy chief Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad was likely to attend the exercise.
Asean — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — and China navies conducted “tabletop exercises” in Singapore recently as a prelude to the joint drills.
These will focus on cooperation and responding to maritime incidents at sea.
“We hope to deepen our understanding with them and we are also exploring the possibilities of finding ways to improve the unexpected encounters and sea protocols,” Andolong said.
China continues to assert its “indisputable sovereignty” over almost the entire South China Sea despite its claims being invalidated by an arbitration court in The Hague in 2016, which found in favour of a complaint bought by the Philippines.
Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei — all Asean member — also have claims in the disputed waters, alongside Vietnam, China and Taiwan.
Non-claimant Asean states include Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.
Defence analyst Jose Custodio told Inquirer.net earlier this year that the Asean drills with China were “tantamount to rewarding Beijing for its bad behaviour”.
He said: “The Chinese military will also use these exercises to establish direct contacts with their military not for confidence-building measures but more on networking to co-opt and influence Asean militaries, with the Philippine military fast turning into the most vulnerable one for cooptation due to the pro-Beijing policy of Duterte and the willingness of some within the Philippine military institution to advance their careers by advancing pro-China policies within the services.”
As we reported yesterday, the Philippines is currently holding joint military exercises alongside the USA and Japan. These are due to conclude on Wednesday.
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