OAN Roy Francis
UPDATED 2:15 PM – Tuesday, April 11, 2023
The United States and the Philippines are set to begin the largest military drill that the two nations have ever held on Tuesday.
The drills, known as the Balikatan Exercise, will last for 17 days, and involve nearly 18,000 personnel from both the U.S. and the Philippines. This comes in response to the growing tensions between the U.S. and China, which rose to new heights when Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-Wen, recently met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in California.
China had condemned the meeting between the two, saying that it “firmly opposes and strongly condemns” the trip and will take “resolute and forceful measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
China also warned the United States to “not walk further down the wrong and dangerous road” with Taiwan.
Days after the meeting took place, China began three days of live-fire drills around Taiwan, which were meant as a show of force to intimidate the small island nation.
The drills included China’s Shandong aircraft carrier, and a heavy air presence. According to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, a total of 91 aircrafts were operating around Taiwan, including at least 71 which crossed the median line in the strait between Taiwan and China, pointing to the fact that Beijing now disregards the unofficial boundary between the two.
After the drills were concluded on Tuesday morning, the Chinese military stated that the exercises were meant as a drill for “sealing off” the island nation and to perform “waves of simulated strikes.”
China said that the exercises had shown that its troops were prepared “to resolutely smash any form of ‘Taiwan independence’ and foreign interference attempts.”
John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman, had accused China of overreacting to the meeting pointing to the six previous trips by Taiwan’s president to the U.S.
“We’re very comfortable and confident that we have in place, in the region, sufficient resources and capabilities to protect our national security interests in the Indo-Pacific,” Kirby said. “I would add… there’s no reason for tensions across the Taiwan Strait to devolve into any kind of conflict.”
Taiwan’s defense ministry said that Chinese warplanes and naval ships were still in the waters around the island nation after their drills had concluded on Tuesday morning.
In response to the Chinese drills, the U.S. and the Philippines are beginning the Balikatan drills on Tuesday. The number of personnel involved in the exercises reflects the increasing tensions between the U.S. and China. In 2022, the same drills had involved half as many personnel.
“It’s a big deal,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at the announcement of the exercise. “This is part of our effort to modernize our alliance, and these efforts are especially important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea.”
The upcoming Balikatan exercise will be the first time that the exercise is held under President Ferdinand Marcos, who has been pushing to strengthen ties with the U.S.
Manila and Washington have also agreed to restart joint maritime patrols in the South China Sea, and to a new deal which expands the U.S. presence in the Philippines.
The two countries have also recently agreed to allow the U.S. military to utilize four new bases in the Philippines, which include a naval base in close proximity to Taiwan. The new agreements led to China claiming that Washington is “endangering regional peace and stability.”
At the opening ceremony of the exercise in Manila, First U.S. Marine Aircraft Wing Commander Major-General Eric Austin said that the exercise will “sharpen our interoperability” and also “increase our proficiency.”
“Through this exercise, the Philippine and US forces will sharpen our inter-operability, increase our proficiency and complement our capabilities through collaboration, ensuring we are prepared to respond to real-world challenges together,” he said.
As part of the exercises, military helicopters will be landing on the northern part of the main island of Luzon. The two countries will also stage an amphibious landing on the western island of Palawan, as well as conducting live fire drills in the South China Sea for the first time.
The Patriot air defense system, believed to be one of the best air defense systems in the world, will also be utilized during the drill, along with the HIMARS precision rocket system.
The drills are also meant to enhance “tactics, techniques and procedures across a wide range of military operations,” according to Philippine military spokesman Colonel Medel Aguilar.
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