US, Philippines kick off largest ever joint military drills

By Chen Heying Source:Global Times Published: 2015-4-21 0:43:01


Philippine troops and a US soldier from 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat of the 5th Infantry Division based in Hawaii walk while a US army CH-47 Chinook helicopter lands in Nueva Ecija province on Monday at the start of the annual joint US-Philippines military exercise. Photo: IC

The Philippine and US militaries kicked off one of their largest joint drills ever on Monday in the South China Sea, which demonstrates the US's desire to wield greater influence in the Asia Pacific, analysts said.

The Balikatan, or "Shoulder to Shoulder" exercises, will involve some 5,000 Philippine troops and 6,500 US soldiers this year, according to the Philippine armed forces. This is the 31st joint drill since 1991.

During the 10 days of exercises, there will also be training held for Philippine first responders and seminars to improve the local knowledge of community nursing and diseases that often spread during disasters, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

A naval base involved in the drill in Zambales province is around 200 kilometers from China's Huangyan Island, the China News Service reported.

Manila and Washington sent some 5,500 troops to take part in the 2014 drill.

"The growth in the number of soldiers participating in the exercises shows the US is pushing its strategy of a pivot to the Asia-Pacific and bolstering its allies which are engaged in territorial disputes with China," Li Jie, a research fellow at the Chinese Naval Research Institute, told the Global Times.

"We have compelling reasons to raise our voice to tell the whole world the adverse effects of China's aggressiveness," Philippine military chief General Gregorio Catapang was quoted by AFP as saying.

Meanwhile, China said it hopes that relevant countries will do more to "enhance security mutual trust among countries in the region and promote regional peace and stability," said foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei at a Monday briefing.

"As China-led economic initiatives such as the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank  and 'One Belt, One Road' are receiving a lot of attention, the US is attempting to expand its military influence in order to contain China," Li said.

A Philippine military spokesman told reporters in Manila on Sunday that "no specific threat was factored" into the drills, according to Al Jazeera.

Dozens of leftwing activists protested outside the US Embassy in Manila, saying the US was using China as a bogeyman to gain a forward base in the Philippines, Reuters reported on Monday.

Posted in: Asia-Pacific

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