US and Philippines hold joint naval exercises near disputed reef

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 June, 2013, 10:45pm

The US and the Philippines are to hold joint naval manoeuvres in the South China Sea next week between the main island of Luzon and a reef claimed by both China and Manila, the Filipino navy said yesterday.

The exercises, taking place from June 27 to July 2, are to be held about 108 kilometres east of Scarborough Shoal, navy spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Gregory Fabic said.

Chinese government vessels are still believed to be patrolling the waters around the shoal after a lengthy stand-off last year with the Philippines, which ended with a Filipino retreat.

"This was planned way back in 2010. Whatever happened since then was purely coincidental," Fabic said when asked if holding the exercises there this year were a way for the Philippines to reassert its sovereignty over the shoal. The manoeuvres would be held over 12,347 square kilometres of waters, he added.

Chinese embassy spokesmen in Manila could not be reached for comment.

Beijing claims it has sovereign rights over nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters approaching the coasts of Southeast Asian countries.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts of the sea, and the area has for decades been regarded as a potential trigger for major military conflict.

Since last month the Philippine navy has also been monitoring Chinese government vessels in the South China Sea stationed off a Filipino-controlled reef in the Spratly Islands.

Fabic said an unspecified number of US Navy ships, Marines and aircraft will take part in the exercises alongside Philippine Navy and coastguard vessels and aircraft, Filipino Marines, and navy and coastguard special operations teams.

"We will focus on communications, naval surface operations, counter-terrorism and maritime security," he said.