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US, Philippines start naval drills near waters claimed by Chinese

SUBIC BAY, Philippines -- The United States and the Philippines kicked off joint naval exercises Thursday in the South China Sea near waters claimed by Beijing, amid tense territorial rows between China and its neighbors.

Filipino military officials said the week-long maneuvers, involving three U.S. warships and more than a thousand servicemen, would address Manila's “capability gaps” as well as testing its newest military vessels.

The Philippines is engaged in a bitter territorial dispute with China over parts of the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety.

China has increasingly asserted its claims to the sea, which are believed to harbor vast oil and gas deposits, and parts of which are also claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Beijing placed an oil rig in disputed waters last month, sparking deadly anti-China riots in Vietnam.

Philippine officers said the annual war games, involving more than a thousand U.S. personnel and about 400 Filipino counterparts, would test the Philippines' two newest warships — a pair of decommissioned U.S. coastguard cutters that were reconfigured into frigates.

“We committed two of our relatively new ships to participate in this exercise because we really wanted these ships to become proficient in what they do,” fleet commander Jaime Bernardino told reporters.

“We wanted them to become proficient in firing their guns and all the things they do on the ground.”

He added that the Philippines' territorial waters are “very porous” to foreign vessels.

“These are the gaps that we would like to address — make sure we detect (foreign vessels) properly, we intercept them and we neutralize them if necessary.”

But he added that simulated boardings being carried out as part of the exercises have not been planned with any specific country in mind.

Two warships were docked at Subic Bay for the drills — a few hours' sailing distance from Scarborough Shoal, a South China Sea outcrop that was effectively taken over by China after a tense stand-off with the Philippines in 2012.

Rear Admiral Stuart Munch, commander of a Pacific-theater U.S. submarine force, said the annual exercises were “designed to improve our inter-operability and build our relationship,” so that the two navies can support each other better in more complex operations.

Manila, which has one of the weakest militaries in the region, has been increasingly turning to its main defense ally Washington to back it up against China.

It recently signed a new defense accord with its former colonial power giving U.S. forces greater access to Filipino bases.

Although the United States has taken no side in the territorial disputes, it has warned China against taking “destabilizing actions” in the South China Sea.

June 27, 2014    StopMeddling@
The Philippines is a loser. It is an opportunistic country. It threw the Americans out only to ask them to come back again when China is trying to 'bully' them. They were bullied by the Japanese in WWII and now they support the notion that a stronger Japan is in the best interest of Asia? C'mon Philippines, grow up. Stop taking sides whenever you think you are being 'bullied'. Stop all these 'Alliance' ideas of yours for convenience. You are nothing but a loser country!!!
June 30, 2014    piawliangjohny@
talking of opportunistic country...lost of Filipinos local and abroad is the same... they cry , beg , but after the help they got they will make another story...So what to expect with a country that have a corrupt government what to expect but to follow the flow....bully... now who bullies who...?
July 15, 2014    chaopien@
Let me ask you this, What have you done good for your country? Are you a rich men or just an ordinary person?? Ask yourself before you make comment to others. Maybe you’re talking to yourself... Have good day
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The USS John McCain, one of the U.S. warships that will participate in the joint U.S. and Philippine maritime exercise, dubbed Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT 2014), is anchored at Subic bay, Zambales province, north of Manila on Thursday, June 26. (AFP)

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