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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Navy ready to respond to Chinese interference vs. Balikatan exercises

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The Philippine Navy said it is prepared to implement contingency measures should China interfere in the ongoing Balikatan military exercises between Manila and Washington in the West Philippine Sea amid a significant increase in Chinese navy, coast guard and militia vessels in the area.

At least 16 Chinese maritime militia vessels were seen near Recto Bank during a resupply mission from April 20 to 22, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources said yesterday.

“There are appropriate measures in place,” said Philippine Navy spokesperson for the WPS Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad.

He, however, declined to elaborate, citing security reasons.

Earlier, Trinidad said the number of Chinese ships in the WPS surged to 124 this week, double the usual average of 60 vessels in the past two months.

“This coincides with Balikatan. This upsurge is out of the normal,” Trinidad said.

BFAR Mission Commander James Abordo said the latest display of coordination between the Chinese maritime militia vessels and the Chinese Coast Guard prove that they are working together.

Despite the increase in Chinese vessels in the area, Trinidad said he expects Beijing to be less aggressive during the multilateral maritime exercise.

That has been the call ever since for China to respect international law and I expect them to behave this time,” he added.

A highlight of this year’s Balikatan is the sinking of BRP Lake Caliraya, the aging warship of the Philippine Navy that was chosen to be the target for the weapons capability exercise.

BRP Lake Caliraya was a Chinese made ship sold to the now defunct Philippine National Oil Company Shipping and Transport Corporation, then later transferred to the Philippine Navy for logistics purposes.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz, on the other hand, will have a joint bilateral maritime sail with France.

The location of the joint sail was yet to be disclosed as of press time.

The annual drills will be concentrated in the northern and western parts of the country, near the potential flashpoints of the South China Sea and Taiwan.

The joint drills involve a simulation of an armed recapture of an island in Palawan, the nearest major Philippine landmass to the hotly disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

The same exercise will be held in the northern provinces of Cagayan and Batanes, both less than 300 kilometers (180 miles) from Taiwan.

The Philippine Coast Guard will join Balikatan for the first time following several confrontations between its vessels and the China Coast Guard, which patrols reefs off the Philippines’ coast.

In another first, the drills will go beyond the Philippines’ territorial waters, which extend about 22 kilometers from its coastline.

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