The Philippines and the United States began long-awaited joint sea and air patrols off the Southeast Asian archipelago on Tuesday, in a bilateral show of strength in the face of perceived Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
The three-day patrol began off the coast of the northernmost islands of the Philippines, near Taiwan, and headed towards the waters of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) within Manila’s exclusive economic zone, officials said. officials.
Philippine forces have recently been engaged in some tense clashes at sea with the Chinese Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia ships in the disputed waters around Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal, where the Philippines keeps a ship ashore as a military outpost.
“Today marks the beginning of joint sea and air patrols – a collaborative effort between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United States Indo-Pacific Command in the West Philippine Sea,” Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos said Tuesday Jr. in a statement.
He announced the launch of the patrols after returning to Manila on Monday from a tour of the United States where he attended the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco and met Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Friday. He also visited the US Army Indo-Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii.
“This significant initiative is a testament to our commitment to strengthening the interoperability of our military forces in conducting maritime and air patrols,” Marcos said, adding that he expects joint patrols to “enhance regional security and foster a seamless partnership solution of continuity with the United States in safeguarding our common interests”.
The joint patrols are part of a series of events agreed by the governments of both nations who have been allies since signing their agreement Mutual defense treaty in 1951.
“The activity will begin in the vicinity of Batanes and end in the West Philippine Sea,” said Colonel Xerxes Trinidad, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), referring to the situation in the country northernmost island provincewhich is a few hundred kilometers from Taiwan.
The patrols involve three navy ships and three fighter planes from the Philippine army, as well as a littoral combat ship and an aircraft from the American side. No other details were released.
Marcos, who won the presidency last year, has sought to reverse the foreign policy of his predecessor, former President Rodrigo Duterte. Marcos is the son of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, who was a staunch ally of the United States at the height of the Cold War.
While in office (2016-22), the staunchly anti-American Duterte distanced himself from Manila in his policies toward Washington and sought closer ties with Beijing and Moscow. He ignored a 2016 international arbitration ruling that invalidated China’s extensive claims to the South China Sea in exchange for Chinese investment commitments. Duterte subsequently adopted a more nationalist tone before leaving office last year, but analysts said he was too little too late.
Earlier this year, the Marcos administration angered China by agreeing to grant access to U.S. military forces more bases in the Philippines. Beijing then responded by accusing the United States of provoking China by surrounding it with military bases. China sees Taiwan as a renegade province.
Stop in Honolulu
Over the weekend in Hawaii, Marcos and Philippine military chief General Romeo Brawner met with Admiral John Aquilino, the top American commander for the Indo-Pacific region. Marcos also mixed with the large Filipino expatriate community.
On Sunday (local time), the president gave a lecture speech in Honolulu during which he announced that the Philippines will now seek bilateral agreements with two other Southeast Asian claimants over the maritime region – Vietnam and Malaysia – because, he said, negotiations between the ASEAN bloc and China for a code of conduct in the Sea Southern Chinese were underway. move too slowly.
The situation in the South China Sea “has become more dire” with China’s growing encroachment on the Philippines’ maritime borders, forcing its government to seek new partnerships with allies so that peace can last, Marcos said.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, including waters within the exclusive economic zone of Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
In San Francisco on Friday, Marcos met with Chinese President Xi in an effort to ease bilateral tensions after a series of standoffs in the strategic waterway during which China’s coast guard and militia vessels stepped up efforts to block Philippine ships from the delivery of supplies to the Manila Army at Second Thomas Shoal.
Marcos said he requested the meeting “to express to the Chinese leader his concern about some of the incidents that were occurring between Chinese and Philippine vessels, culminating in an actual collision,” the Office said in a statement on Saturday. Philippine Presidential Communications Committee.
In his speech from Honolulu, Marcos noted that Philippine supply missions to his outpost in the disputed reef had been “subjected to coercive tactics and dangerous maneuvers” by China’s coast guard, supported by its maritime militia.
“So, I have said it before and I will say it again, the Philippines will not give a single square centimeter of our territory to any foreign power,” he said, noting that the 2016 arbitration award supported the Philippine position and rejected the Chinese they claim almost the entire maritime region.
“We will insist on preserving the country’s sovereignty and integrity, working closely with international partners in bilateral, regional and multilateral contexts to develop rules and processes to address these challenges,” Marcos said.
Ron Lopez in Manila contributed to this report.
BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news organization.