US, Philippines launch annual military drills as China tensions bubble

US, Philippines launch annual military drills as China tensions bubble

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U.S. and Philippine officials hold a ceremony to kick off the joint exercises. (Photo: Western Command Armed Forces of the Philippines Facebook)

The 32nd annual Balikatan military exercises are designed to prep forces for a range of crises including in the disputed South China Sea.

WASHINGTON (Talk Media News) – Thousands of United States and allied Philippine troops kicked off the 32nd annual Balikatan military exercises Monday, designed to prep forces for a range of crises including in the disputed South China Sea.

China has protested the drills in recent years, suspecting that the actions are meant to contain Chinese claims to the region — which conflict with those of several other nations. Washington and Manila have said the drills are not directed against China.

“This is actually our purpose in coming up with this capability — the Philippines is the least capable armed forces in the region and the U.S. being a big brother is a big help here,” Philippine Commander Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez told Voice of America.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter will travel to the Philippines to witness part of the 11-day exercises, in which 5,000 U.S. troops and 3,500 Philippine will take part. Australian forces will also participate.

Last month, the U.S and the Philippines reached a deal a deal allowing for a rotating U.S. military presence at five Philippine bases. The Philippines booted U.S. forces from the country 25 years ago, but agreed to the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) amid growing tensions with China.

Under the agreement, the U.S. will provide the Philippines with hundreds of millions of dollars to modernize its military forces while the U.S. is allowed access to various bases.

Some in the Philippines, which is a former U.S. colony, have welcomed the developments, while others have protested them.

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