Friday, May 11, 2012

us-philippine military exercises directed against china

globalresearch | Joint US-Philippine military exercises are currently underway that can only heighten tensions with China over disputed territorial claims in the South China Sea and in the Indo-Pacific region more broadly.

Yesterday, 4,500 US Marines and 2,500 Philippine troops staged an amphibious landing drill at Ulugan Bay on Palawan Island to simulate the recapture of an island from “militants.” Despite denials by American and Philippine officials, the exercise was pointedly aimed at China, which contests the sovereignty of waters and islands in the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, adjacent to Palawan Island.

The South China Sea is rich in gas and oil reserves, leading to disputes over energy exploration and drilling in its waters. Last weekend, US and Philippine special forces troops took part in a simulated assault to retake an offshore oil rig from “militants” off northern Palawan.

The drills are part of annual US-Philippine Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) military exercises, which began last week and are due to conclude today. The confrontational character of the exercise is underlined not only by their location and type, but also by the involvement of troops from Australia, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia.

President Barack Obama declared last November that the US would focus on the Indo-Pacific region as its top strategic priority, announcing the greater use of military bases in northern Australia, including the stationing of US Marines near Darwin. Since mid-2009, the Obama administration has been engaged in an aggressive drive to strengthen alliances and strategic partnerships with countries throughout Asia in a bid to undermine Chinese influence.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asserted at an Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in 2010 that the US had “a national interest” in ensuring “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea. Clinton’s comments signalled US backing for ASEAN nations to more vigorously press their territorial claims against China, and have resulted in the Philippines, in particular, taking a more aggressive stance.

The Balikatan exercises took place amid an ongoing standoff between Philippine and Chinese vessels at the disputed Scarborough Shoal to the west of the Philippine island of Luzon. Earlier this month, the Philippine military dispatched its largest vessel—a re-fitted, former US Coast Guard frigate handed over last December—to confront Chinese maritime surveillance ships that were preventing the Philippine navy from detaining Chinese fishing boats. While the standoff has eased, both countries are maintaining ships in the area.

In a TV interview on Monday, Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario appealed for other countries for support. “I think the current standoff is a manifestation of a larger threat to many nations. The bigger picture is that anybody can be targeted,” he warned.