The Philippines and the US reportedly sank a decommissioned vessel close to a shoal that was seized by China in the territorial waters of the Philippines in the South China Sea.
Nearly 1,400 Marines, airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Coast Guardsmen from the two countries participated in the training, which involved targeting, detecting, identifying, and also engaging a target vessel using air- and ground-based weapons systems, the two armed forces of these two countries mentioned in their joint statement.
In the drill that was part of the Balikatan yearly joint military manoeuvres, the greatest such exercise between Manila and Washington since they began 38 years ago, the US and the Philippine weapons platforms successfully delivered coordinated fires on one target vessel, a decommissioned Philippine Navy corvette also towed into the Philippine territorial waters, the militaries mentioned.
Bilateral weapons systems comprised the US and the Philippine artillery, Avenger air defence systems, High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, among others.
The manoeuvre was carried out in the waters of the Zambales province, located close to the Scarborough Shoal, which China had taken control of back in 2012 in the South China Sea, intensifying the conflict between Manila and Beijing regarding the sovereignty over a handful of reefs and islets found in these waters.
The atoll is about 119 nm from the coast of northwestern Philippines, within the 200 nm limit established by the UN to determine the maritime sovereignty of nations, per a convention that China had ratified back in 1996.
China, which claims nearly the whole South China Sea, is in a sovereignty dispute with Brunei, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other nations in that region.
The training highlighted a tangible demonstration of the US-Philippine commitment to further strengthen their military capabilities as well as interoperability to satisfy shared modern-day security risks, the militaries mentioned with respect to the drill, which was watched live by Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Philippine President.
The military manoeuvres between the US and the Philippines on Philippine soil came through amid rising tensions between Beijing and Manila owing to many reasons.
For one, the territorial conflict in the South China Sea between the two nations has worsened following complaints by the Philippines that vessels from China directed their military-grade lasers at the Filipino coast guard.
Beijing has objected strongly to the new military agreement between the US and the Philippines, announced on 3 April and which gives the US troops adequate access to four new bases on Philippine soil, including one that is situated approximately 400 km from Taiwan, a self-ruling island that Beijing hasn’t ruled out invading and that Washington would defend.
Another of the bases is situated near the much-disputed islands in the Spratly archipelago.
China refers to the agreement as “provocation,” and Huang Xilian, the Chinese ambassador based in Manila, raised tensions on 14 April by warning that the Philippines must worry about the security of the more than 150,000 Filipinos in Taiwan.
Reference: Nikkei Asia, La Prensa Latina