Manila, Philippines — More than 2,500 U.S. and Filipino marines joined combat exercises Monday to respond to any sudden crises in a region on edge over territorial disputes in the South China Sea and rising tensions over Taiwan.
The annual military drills are some of the largest yet among longtime treaty allies under newly elected Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. His predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, was an outspoken critic of US China security policies. open.
Called Kamandag, the Tagalog acronym for “Sea Warriors Cooperation,” the drills involve 1,900 U.S. Marines and more than 600 mostly Filipino counterparts in simulated amphibious assaults and special operations, U.S. military officials said. and Filipinos. HIMARS missile launchers and US supersonic fighter jets will take part in live-fire exercises that will end on October 1. 14, they said.
The locations include the western island province of Palawan, which faces the South China Sea, and the northern Philippines, across the Luzon Strait from Taiwan.
Philippine Rear Admiral Caesar Bernard Valencia said the exercises will focus on improving coastal defenses and are not directed against any one country.
Japanese and South Korean forces will participate as observers but may join in disaster response drills, he said.
The military exercises are taking place simultaneously with combat exercises between the US Marines and the Japanese armed forces on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, involving some 3,000 servicemen from both sides, US military officials said.
US Maj. Gen. Jay Bargeron of the Japan-based 3rd Marine Division said the simultaneous exercises are aimed at bolstering the defensive capabilities of US alliances with the Philippines and Japan. “through realistic combined training.”
“These exercises will allow our forces to strengthen interoperability and readiness to ensure we are ready to respond rapidly to crises throughout the Indo-Pacific,” Bargeron said in a statement.
“Our strength, determination and commitment to our allies and partners in the region are our most effective deterrent,” US Navy Lt. Col. Kurt Stahl told The Associated Press. “Together, we can determine potential adversaries without straining our capabilities or our relationships.”
In July, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on China to comply with a 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing’s vast territorial claims in the South China Sea and warned that Washington is obligated to defend Philippines under a 1951 U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty if Philippine forces, vessels, or aircraft are attacked in disputed waters.
The ruling was issued by an arbitration tribunal established in The Hague under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea after the Philippine government complained in 2013 about the seizure of a sandbar off its northwest coast by China. China did not participate, called the arbitration decision a farce, and continues to challenge it.
In addition to China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims to the busy waterway, where an estimated $5 trillion in goods pass each year and is believed to be rich in underwater oil and gas deposits.
Separately, US President Joe Biden said last month that US forces would defend Taiwan if Beijing tries to invade the autonomous island, prompting protests from China.
Long-standing maritime disputes and increasingly tense relations between China and Taiwan have become key fronts in the US-China rivalry.
Associated Press writer Aaron Favila contributed to this report.