(by Manuel Mogato, Reuters) MANILA — Thousands of Philippine and U.S. soldiers began annual war games on Monday, the first under a new security pact with the United States, focusing on maritime security in the face of China’s growing naval presence in the disputed South China Sea.
The joint exercises “Balikatan” (shoulder-to-shoulder) would test the combat readiness of the two oldest allies in this part of the world to respond to any maritime threats, including piracy and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
The new security pact was signed last week just hours before U.S. President Barack Obama visited. Obama said the agreement was a testament to Washington’s “pivot” to Asia and was an “ironclad” commitment to defend the Philippines.
The Philippines has territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea, which is said to be rich in energy deposits and carries about $5 billion in ship-borne trade every year. The Spratlys in the South China Sea are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
“Tensions in the Asia-Pacific region have increased due to excessive and expansive maritime and territorial claims, undermining the rule of law,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said at the opening ceremony at the main army base in Manila.
“The aggressive patterns of behavior aimed at changing the status quo threaten peace and stability in the region. Balikatan 2014, with its focus on maritime security, strongly supports our capabilities to address these challenges.”
Asked about the exercises, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said all sides needed to work “constructively” to maintain peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region. “We hope that the relevant U.S.-Philippines drills can work in this direction,” she told a daily news briefing.
On Saturday, a navy plane dropped food and water to troops stationed on a Philippine transport ship that ran aground on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea [in 1999 and has been kept in place as a way to reinforce the Philippine claim to the shoal]. Chinese coast guard ships have set up a blockade around the shoal.
Nearly 5,500 American and Filipino troops are taking part in the two-week drills in different parts of the main island of Luzon. The war games will see U.S. F-18 fighters rehearse bombing runs and troops involved in live fire drills.
Under a new security pact, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed last week during Obama’s visit, the U.S. will have wider access to local bases and construct facilities to store supplies and equipment for 10 years in exchange for increased support on maritime security and humanitarian assistance.
The annual war games come under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, part of a web of security alliances the United States built in the Asia-Pacific region during the Cold War. …
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1. Find the answers to the following questions about the Philippines at the CIA World FactBook website. Answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.
b) location/the countries that share its borders:
c) the religious breakdown of the population:
d) the type of government:
e) the chief of state (and head of government if different):
f) the population:
2. Answer the following about Balikatan:
a) What is its purpose?
b) How many troops are participating?
c) How long will the exercises last?
d) What will the games entail?
3. Under what pact are the joint exercises being conducted? – what will it give the U.S.? the Philippines?
4. Under what treaty are the annual war games conducted? (read more under “Resources” below)
5. How beneficial or important do you think it is to the U.S. for our military to conduct war games with our allies? Explain your answer.
The Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951: The Mutual Defense Treaty Between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America was signed on August 30, 1951 in Washington, D.C. between representatives of the Philippines and the United States. The overall accord contained eight articles and dictated that both nations would support each other if either the Philippines or the United States were to be attacked by an external party.
2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA): On April 28, 2014, desiring to enhance cooperative capacities and efforts in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, the two governments signed the agreement, which is is designed to promote the following between the Philippines the United States:
- Capacity building towards AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) modernization
- Strengthening AFP for external defense
- Maritime Security
- Maritime Domain Awareness
- Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR)
The agreement allows U.S. forces access to and use of designated areas and facilities owned and controlled by the Armed Forces of the Philippines at the invitation of the Philippine Government. It contains clear provision that the U.S. will not establish a permanent military presence or base in the Philippines and a prohibition of entry to the Philippines of nuclear weapons. The EDCA has an initial term of ten years, and thereafter will continue in force until terminated by either party after having given a one year notice of intention to terminate. (from wikipedia)
The Philippines, along with Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, is a claimant country in the disputed Spratly Islands group. Currently the Philippines is occupying ten features (seven islands, three reefs).
As a comparison, Vietnam occupies six islands, seventeen reefs and three banks. Taiwan has one island and one reef. Malaysia has one artificial island and five reefs. China has eight reefs.
Also, the Philippines has some features that are “virtually occupied.” These are features that lie in very close proximity to Philippine-occupied features and that can be seen within the horizon: North Reef, Sandy Cay or Extension Reef, Loaita Nan and Loaita Cay. (from wikipedia)
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