by Staff Writers
Puerto Princesa, Philippines (AFP) June 28, 2011
The Philippines and the United States will launch naval exercises on Tuesday as the long-time allies seek to deepen defence ties amid tensions with China over a maritime dispute.
The 11-day event will see two US missile destroyers patrol Philippine waters close to the resource-rich and strategically vital South China Sea that is at the heart of the regional territorial row.
However the Philippines and the United States have emphasised the annual event is aimed at long-term co-operation, and not linked to recent unease in Manila about allegedly aggressive Chinese actions in the South China Sea.
"The US and Philippine navies have a long history of working together, and exercises like (these) provide a great venue for us to hone our skills," US commander for the exercises, Captain David Welch said, in a press release.
Nevertheless the exercises are being seen in Manila as a timely show of unity between the Philippines and its former colonial ruler.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino this month called for US help in containing China's South China Sea ambitions, saying his country was too weak to stand up to the Chinese alone.
Aquino made his plea to the United States after accusing China of inciting at least seven recent incidents in the disputed waters, including one in which a Chinese vessel allegedly opened fire on Filipino fishermen.
Aquino also accused China of breaking international law by entering the Philippines' 200-nautical-mile economic exclusion zone.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week offered the Philippines' some comfort, pledging that the superpower ally would help to modernise the cash-strapped Philippine military.
"We are determined and committed to supporting the defence of the Philippines," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
No specifics were immediately announced but Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario later said the US government had vowed to boost the Philippines' intelligence capabilities in the South China Sea.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims to parts of South China Sea, which is believed to have vast deposits of oil and gas.
Vietnam has made similar complaints as the Philippines in recent months, prompting concerns that China is becoming a regional bully as its economic and military strength grows.
In response, China has insisted it intends to resolve the territorial dispute peacefully but remains firm in its claims to most of the South China Sea, even waters within the Philippines' 200-nautical-mile exclusion zone.
The Philippine-US exercises officially begin at 3:00pm (0700 GMT) on Tuesday with an opening ceremony on Palawan island, the narrow island that divides the South China Sea to the west and the Sulu Sea in the east.
The exercises, called Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), will take place in the Sulu Sea.
About 800 US sailors will be involved in CARAT, as well as the two guided missile destroyers and a salvage ship.
Highlighting the disparity between the allies' military capabilities, the Philippine navy said it would deploy two World War II-era vessels armed only with cannons for CARAT.
About 300 Philippine sailors will take part, according to navy spokesman Lieutenant Noel Cadigal.
The United States is scheduled to stage similar exercises with Vietnam next month, although it has insisted they too are unrelated to the South China Sea tensions.
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Philippines, US navies in show of unity
Manila (AFP) June 26, 2011
State-of-the-art US missile destroyers will join ageing Philippine warships for naval exercises this week in a timely show of unity as tensions with China escalate over a maritime dispute. The 11 days of exercises start on Tuesday off the southwest Philippine island of Palawan in the Sulu Sea, close to the disputed waters of the South China Sea where Manila has complained of increasing Chine ... read more
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