For the first time, the Pentagon has revealed that the US and Philippines are conducting joint patrols in the South China Sea.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter says these exercises are to “tamp down tensions” in the region, but many fear it may trigger an “angry response” from China.
US forces are doing “shoulder-to-shoulder” combat exercises through the end of this month and about 300 troops, including Air Force commandos, will participate in the sea, and eventually, air- patrols with the Philippines.
While the US has expressed concern over China’s land grab, Secretary Carter insists these military exercises represent “America’s continued support for our allies in the region” and are not aimed at China.
Carter said the joint patrols will “improve the Philippine’s navy and contribute to the safety and security of the region’s waters.”
The secretary announced the patrols just days after a diplomat asked for U.S. help to convince China not to build in the nearby Scarborough Shoal –which sits 145 miles west of the Philippines.
In the case of the Scarborough Shoal — which China seized in 2012 with a Coast Guard ship — the Philippines says it’s caused fishermen to lose access to “rich fishing ground.”
Charlito Maniago, the leader of a northwestern Philippine village where many Filipino fisherman were affected by the Scarborough capture, says he worries that China may take a more hard-line position because of Washington’s increased involvement in the disputed waters.
“A dangerous situation may happen and our fishermen may all the more lose the chance to fish in those waters,” Maniago said.
An international court of arbitration is currently reviewing the Scarborough Shoal case and is expected to rule on it soon — but Beijing says the panel has no jurisdiction.
A retired Navy admiral spoke to PBS about the South China Sea disputed territories and says the islands are claimed by multiple countries including the Philippines, Vietnam, China, Taiwan and Malaysia.
The actions most recently taken by China in the Spratly Islands have been the most aggressive we’ve seen, he said.
China is taking de facto control of these areas — “below the military level” — making advances with Coast Guard vessels, drilling rigs and civilian dredges.
The Pentagon said that about 200 airmen, including special ops forces, will remain at Clark Air Base, along with three of their Pave Hawk attack helicopters, an MC-130H Combat Talon II special mission aircraft and five A-10 combat aircraft.
Up to 75 Marines will stay at Camp Aguinaldo to “support increased U.S. and Philippine combined military operations in the region.”
The goal is to provide training to better work together and lay the groundwork for forces to do joint air patrols as well as the ship movements. Similar rotations will occur “routinely” in the future.
A total of 5 bases in the Philippines are being used by US forces. Included in a $40 million assistance package are patrol sensors and surveillance equipment to help the Philippines “keep a watch over its territory” – including areas where there are overlapping claims in the South China Sea, PBS reports..
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