The coast guards of the United States, Japan and the Philippines are conducting trilateral naval exercises in the South China Sea this week, the first between them amid growing concerns over China’s moves in the region.
The June 1-7 exercise in waters off Bataan province is an initiative of the US and Japan, with Australia participating as an observer, Philippine Coast Guard Commander Armand Balilo said on Monday.
Balilo said four Philippine ships and one each from the United States and Japan will participate in exercises to enhance search and rescue and law enforcement cooperation.
Japan and the US reached out to the Philippines in February, the same month Manila accused China of aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
“This is a normal routine Coast Guard operation,” Palillo told a news conference.
“There is nothing wrong with conducting exercises with your peers.”
Japan, Australia and the US have frequently condemned China’s militarization of the South China Sea and have sought closer ties with US ally the Philippines since Ferdinand Marcos Jr took over from pro-China predecessor Rodrigo Duterte last year.
Philippine relations with the United States have strengthened under Marcos, who has been increasingly vocal about China’s behavior, including the use of a “military-grade laser” against a ship supporting a naval food supply mission.
China has reported large numbers of suspected militants moving near Philippine-controlled areas in the disputed Spratly Islands. China insists its coast guard’s actions are legal and take place in its territorial waters.
Balilo said the upcoming naval exercise will include anti-piracy simulations and an interception exercise involving a ship carrying weapons of mass destruction.
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