Philippines and US Launch Largest Joint Military Exercise Amid China Tensions

The Philippines and the US kick off their largest joint military exercise, Balikatan 2023, amid tensions with China in the South China Sea. The drills involve 16,000 troops and observers from allies, showcasing the strategic importance of the region.

author-image
Trim Correspondents
Updated On
New Update
Philippines and US Launch Largest Joint Military Exercise Amid China Tensions

Philippines and US Launch Largest Joint Military Exercise Amid China Tensions

The Philippines and the United States have kicked off their largest joint military exercise, Balikatan 2024, with 16,000 troops participating. The exercise is also joined by observers from Australia and France, as well as 14 other countries. A National Security Council official has emphasized that the exercises are for defense, not conflict, according to national security, amid ongoing tensions with China in the West Philippine Sea.

The exercises come after a historic trilateral summit between the Philippines, the US, and Japan, where they slammed China's 'provocative actions' in the region. China has urged the Philippines to 'reflect on its own actions' and accused it of breaching commitments and provoking tensions in the South China Sea.

The exercises featured live-fire drills at sea, near the Scarborough Shoal, which China has occupied for over a decade. Military officials from both countries stated that the exercises across the Philippines, including sites facing Taiwan, were not targeted at any specific country.

Why this matters: The Balikatan exercises take place amid heightened tensions between the Philippines and China over disputed territories in the South China Sea. The involvement of the US and other countries underscores the strategic importance of the region and the growing concerns over China's assertiveness.

The annual drills, including Salaknib and Balikatan, have been criticized by China as a threat to regional unity and peace. However, a US general stated that the scope of this year's exercises, which will include jungle training, remains consistent with last year's. The exercises are part of the Biden administration's efforts to strengthen military alliances in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China's influence, particularly in the disputed South China Sea.

National Security Council spokesperson Jonathan Malaya stated, "Conflict is off the table." The Armed Forces of the Philippines has maintained that the Balikatan exercises are not directed towards any specific nation. The exercises are part of the long-standing Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the US and are focused on strengthening the AFP's readiness and resilience in the face of evolving security challenges.

Ahead of the drills, a US think tank has reported unusual movements of Chinese maritime militia vessels near the Philippines' Palawan coastline, which may be intended to send a message or probe the Philippines' responses. China has expressed 'grave concern' over the deployment of a US medium-range missile system to the Philippines, saying it increases the risk of misjudgment and miscalculation.

The 'Balikatan' military exercise aims to enhance interoperability, strengthen alliances, and bolster external defense capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region. The Philippine National Police-Special Action Force will also participate in the exercise to observe, learn, and gain experience in all-domain operations, command control, and cybersecurity.

Key Takeaways

  • Philippines and US launch largest joint military exercise Balikatan 2024 with 16,000 troops.
  • Exercises involve observers from Australia, France, and 14 other countries, not targeted at any specific country.
  • Exercises amid tensions with China over disputed territories in the South China Sea.
  • Exercises aim to enhance interoperability, strengthen alliances, and bolster defense capabilities in Indo-Pacific.
  • Philippine National Police-Special Action Force to participate to observe, learn, and gain experience.