US to ramp-up military presence in Philippines, to hold 'regular' military exercises

The US move could aggravate the Chinese resistance against any other country claiming parts of the territory.

The United States said it is going to ramp-up its military presence in the Philippines and will conduct 'regular' joint military exercises in the South China Sea in a move that could aggravate the Chinese resistance against any other country claiming parts of the territory.

The US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Thursday (14 April) that a contingent of US military aircraft and 200 US airmen from US Pacific Air Forces would be at Clark Air Base, a former US Air Force base, through the end of the month.

The G-7 meeting held in Hiroshima earlier this week had criticized the Chinese moves in the South China Sea which provoked the region's super power to react harshly.

A commentary published in the official news agency Xinhua on Monday said the G-7 statement was a blatant attempt at interference in a situation which is none of their direct concern, exposing the bloc's transition from observer of the situation to meddlesome mischief-maker.

The US expected there would be additional follow-on rotations of aircraft. The aircraft in the initial contingent include five A-10C Thunderbolt II ground attack aircraft, three HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, and a MC-130H special operations aircraft.

In addition, up to 75 US troops, mostly Marines, would remain in the Philippines "on a rotational basis" after the conclusion of joint "Balikatan" US-Philippines military exercises this week. The troops would support "increased operations in the region," the Pentagon said.

The first US-Philippines joint patrol in the South China Sea occurred in March and a second one happened early this month and would occur "regularly" in the future, the Pentagon said, according to a Reuters report.

The new military initiatives are designed so that the US does not increase its permanent footprint in its former colony, but demonstrates that the two countries are increasing security cooperation amid joint concerns over China's actions in the region's disputed waterways.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the waters, through which about US$5trn in trade is shipped every year.

"Countries across the Asia-Pacific are voicing concern with China's land reclamation, which stands out in size and scope, as well as its militarization in the South China Sea," Carter told reporters. "They're voicing those concerns publicly and privately, at the highest levels, in regional meetings, and global fora."

The Philippines has disputed China's claims in a case it has brought before an international arbitration court.

Meanwhile, the left-wing Bayan (Nation), an umbrella group of Philippine nationalist and anti-US organisations said such cooperation with the United States is a move by the US military to create a permanent presence in the Philippines as a platform from which it could dominate the region.

"Our dispute with China can never be used as a reason to allow another country to violate our sovereignty," its secretary-general, Renato Reyes, said in a statement. "It cannot be used to justify the return of US bases, under a questionable and open-ended agreement."

Both the countries had signed an Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement in 2014 that grants Washington an increased military presence in the Philippines.