The Philippine and US armed forces have confirmed an increase in joint defence and security activities, including annual combat exercises.
The number of joint security activities next year will rise to 281 in areas that will include counterterrorism, maritime security and humanitarian aid. There are 261 such joint activities this year, military spokesman Colonel Noel Detoyato said yesterday (Friday, September 28).
Philippine military chief, General Carlito Galvez, and Admiral Philip Davidson, US Indo-Pacific commander, led an annual meeting of the allied forces in Manila on Thursday.
When he took office in 2016, President Duterte vowed to cut many of the military’s combat drills with the US and end the presence of American troops in the southern Philippines.
He said he wanted joint combat drills with the US stopped because they might offend Beijing, where he has sought investment for his infrastructure programme.
Despite this rhetoric, the US military presence in the south and joint defence drills have continued. Some 150 to 200 American troops are continuing to provide non-combat assistance to Filipino troops battling Muslim militants on Mindanao.
China has expressed concern in the past over joint military exercises near the South China Sea, where it remains locked in territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
“It’s a bilateral issue between the Philippines and US,” Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said in Manila when asked to comment on the increased Philippine-US military activities. “What we hope is that the military relations between those two countries will contribute to the peace and stability of this region.”
Zhao opposed the flight early this week of two nuclear-capable US B-52 bombers over the disputed waters, where US ships have also sailed close to Chinese man-made islands to defend freedom of navigation.
“Of course we are concerned. It’s a strategic bomber, it’s also far away from the US,” Zhao told reporters. “I think the general relative peace and stability of the region do not require the flight of that kind of plane.”
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