The United States and the Philippines have commenced their largest-ever joint military exercises, Balikatan, involving more than 17,000 troops. The drills include a live-fire exercise on a sunken ship in the South China Sea and are scheduled to conclude on April 28. These exercises coincide with the end of China's three-day military drills around Taiwan, which were described as threats to regional security by Taiwan's president and labeled "intimidation" by Japan.
Recently, Manila agreed to allow the U.S. access to additional military bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between both countries. Public surveys indicate that most Filipinos support closer ties with the United States; however, some demonstrations erupted during Baliktan due to concerns that Manila could be dragged into a larger conflict.
As Chinese forces wrapped up their drills near Taiwan earlier this week, over 17,600 military personnel from both U.S. and Philippine militaries launched their largest-ever joint annual bilateral exercise set to run through April 28th.
Following an announcement in February that it would increase its presence in the region after gaining access to four additional bases from Manila agreement],the United States sent guided-missile destroyer USS Milius through the South China Sea for a "freedom of navigation" operation while Chinese forces completed their maneuvers near Taiwan.
China has responded critically toward these actions; Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin stated at Monday's briefing: “U.S.-Philippines military cooperation must not interfere in South China sea disputes or harm China's territorial sovereignty.”
Tensions continue mounting throughout this strategic maritime region as these significant displays of force challenge Beijing’s disputed territorial claims within East Asia amidst ongoing international concerns related to regional stability.