The US and the Philippines are engaged in the largest military exercise ever. The exercise, among others, simulates the liberation of an island involving both the Navy and the Air Force. “This shows that the chances of a conflict in the region are increasing,” said Paul van Hooft, strategic analyst at The Hague Center for Strategic Studies.
The Filipino Polykathon exercise, ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’, started last week and will continue for more than a week. About 17,000 players participate. ‘The larger purpose of the exercise is a message to China,’ says Van Hooft. “It is a signal that the United States will continue to protect the Philippines, a result of the security agreement between the two countries.”
Preparing for a confrontation
However, this kind of exercise is not new and the armies of both the countries do it every year. But this exercise is the biggest ever, while last year’s was also. “It shows that there is an increasing preparation for conflict in the region.”
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Van Hooft says the Philippines plays a double role here. The Philippines does not want to offend any country. They want to maintain good economic relations with China, while relying on the US for security.’ In that respect, Van Hooft says, the Philippines is in an ‘awkward divide’. ‘Like many countries in this region.’
At the same time, South Korea, Japan and the United States are also engaged in military exercises. A US Navy ship passed through the Taiwan Strait. According to the Americans, this is also a routine exercise, but it is clear that the US wants to emphasize that it plays a major role in that area. ‘That’s right,’ insists van Hooft. “They want to protect an ally, they want to show that they will react strongly to provocations. But it’s getting more and more intense and the potential for conflict is increasing.’
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The question is how China will respond to a show of military strength in the region. “China is repeating that it is a provocation, while the US is repeating that it is routine exercises. It is difficult to assess how exactly that will be interpreted.
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