The United States and the Philippines have kicked off their largest joint military exercise in decades. The two-week long drills, dubbed “Balikatan,” involve 8,000 troops from both countries and will focus on maritime security and counterterrorism. The exercise comes on the heels of similar drills conducted by China in disputed waters of the South China Sea.
The Balikatan exercise aims to enhance the interoperability between the US and Philippine militaries in various aspects, including air defense, live-fire drills, and urban operations. According to Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, “Our participation in the Balikatan exercise is a testament to the strength of our alliance and mutual defense.”
However, the joint drills have raised concerns from China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea as its own. The contested waters also include areas claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei. Amid rising tensions in the region, China has conducted its own military exercises and constructed military installations on man-made islands.
Despite China’s objections, the US and Philippine officials have emphasized that the drill is not meant to provoke any country. “This is not directed at any particular country, but focused on maintaining a broad and collaborative approach to regional security,” the US Embassy in Manila said in a statement.
The Balikatan exercise also marks the first major military cooperation between the US and the Philippines since they suspended joint exercises in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The drill is a crucial step in strengthening the military alliance between the two countries and maintaining regional stability in the face of growing challenges.