Philippines, US kick off joint drills amid China concerns

  • The Philippines and United States launched army-to-army exercises on 13 Mar, with a focus on enhancing the Southeast Asian nation’s ability to protect and defend its territory from external threats.
  • The drills come on the heels of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s decision in Feb 23 to expand the US’ access to his country’s military bases – a move that has infuriated China since the Philippines is seen as a fulcrum of geopolitical rivalry between the two major powers.
  • More than 3,000 Filipino and US soldiers will participate in the three-week-long annual exercises called Salaknib, which involve multiple small-arms live-fire exercises, artillery and mortar live-fire events, and construction projects.
  • The scenarios would involve the defence of the Philippine archipelago from potential foreign aggressors.
  • Under the agreement, the US can use the bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and building of facilities such as runways, fuel storage and military housing, but not to maintain a permanent presence.
  • The Philippines has yet to disclose the additional bases to which the US will have access, but a former military chief has said they include bases on the island of Luzon, facing north towards Taiwan, and on Palawan in the southwest, near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

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