Philippine Navy Sinks Decommissioned Chinese-Made Ship During War Games with U.S.

The Philippine Navy sank a decommissioned Chinese-made ship during Balikatan war games with the US, a move officials say was "coincidental" amid heightened tensions in the West Philippine Sea.

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Mazhar Abbas
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Philippine Navy Sinks China-Made Ship in Joint US Military Exercises

Philippine Navy Sinks China-Made Ship in Joint US Military Exercises

The Philippine Navy has used a decommissioned Chinese-made ship as a target during the ongoing Balikatan war games with the United States, a move officials say was "coincidental" and not directed at any country. The BRP Lake Caliraya (AF-81), a small replenishment tanker that was the only Chinese-made naval asset of the Philippine Navy, was sunk off the coast of Ilocos Norte, near Taiwan, as part of a sinking exercise (SINKEX).

Philippine and U.S. officials have emphasized that the use of the China-made ship as a target was not intended as a political statement. "It's coincidental. It's not directed to any particular country," said Philippine Navy spokesperson Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad. The ship, which was donated to the Philippine Navy in 2014, had been decommissioned in December 2020 due to mechanical and electrical issues.

Why this matters: The sinking of the Chinese-made ship comes amid heightened tensions in the West Philippine Sea, with a substantial increase in the number of Chinese vessels monitored in the area before the start of the Balikatan exercises. The joint military drills serve as a deterrent against external threats and aim to enhance the Philippines' defense capabilities.

The Balikatan war games, which involve various exercises such as integrated air missile defense, cyber defense, and maritime patrols, are seen as a "perfect training ground" for the Philippines' new archipelagic defense strategy, according to a U.S. marine general. For the first time, the Philippines, U.S., and France will also conduct patrols in the West Philippine Sea as part of the exercises.

Philippine Navy Unfazed: Despite the presence of 124 Chinese vessels and warships spotted in the area from April 16 to 22, the Philippine Navy spokesperson said that China is not expected to interfere with the drills, as it is an activity between the US and the Philippines. The Philippine government has also denied that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has directed the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to act against any foreign country, warning the public about an "audio deepfake" circulating online that portrays Marcos instructing the military to respond against China if it attacks the Philippines.

The ongoing Balikatan exercises, which involve the Philippine Navy, the United States, and French navies, are focused on building the country's defense capabilities through various drills such as gunnery exercises and maritime search and rescue. Philippine Navy spokesperson Captain Ariel Coloma stated, "The exercise is timely and will help build the country's defense capabilities." The West Philippine Sea has previously hosted several joint naval exercises, and this year's Balikatan exercise will include war games in the region.

Key Takeaways

  • Philippine Navy used decommissioned Chinese-made ship as target in Balikatan war games.
  • Officials say use of Chinese ship was "coincidental" and not directed at any country.
  • Balikatan exercises aim to enhance Philippines' defense capabilities, including in West Philippine Sea.
  • Despite Chinese vessels in the area, China is not expected to interfere with the drills.
  • Exercises involve Philippine, US, and French navies, focusing on building defense capabilities.