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The Philippines

US and Philippines to step up joint military activities amid China concerns over American nuclear bombers

China has expressed concern in the past over the countries’ defence exercises near the disputed South China Sea

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 4:47am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 10:52pm

The Philippine military said Friday that its joint defence and security activities with US forces, including annual combat exercises, would increase next year in a show of the treaty allies’ continuing robust relations.

Top US and Philippine military officials agreed to increase the number of joint security activities next year to 281 in areas that include counterterrorism, maritime security and humanitarian aid. There are 261 such joint activities this year, a military spokesman, Colonel Noel Detoyato, said.

The Philippine military chief, General Carlito Galvez, and Admiral Philip Davidson, the US Indo-Pacific commander, led an annual meeting of the allied forces at the military headquarters in metropolitan Manila on Thursday.

President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to end many of the military’s combat drills with the US military and the presence of American troops in the southern Philippines when he took office in 2016, while working to revive strained ties with China.

Duterte said he wanted joint combat drills with the US stopped because they may offend China, where he has sought infrastructure money and trade and investment.

The US military presence in the south and joint drills, however, have continued. About 150 to 200 American troops are providing non-combat assistance to Filipino troops battling Muslim militants.

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China has expressed concern in the past over joint military exercises near the South China Sea, where it has been locked in territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan for decades.

“It’s a bilateral issue between the Philippines and US,” Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said in Manila when asked to comment on the increased Philippine-US military activities.

“What we hope is that the military relations between those two countries will contribute to the peace and stability of this region.”

Zhao opposed the flight early this week of two nuclear-capable US B-52 bombers over the strategic waterway, where US ships have also sailed close to Chinese man-made islands to promote freedom of navigation in a region where Washington has repeatedly protested China’s assertive actions to fortify its claims.

“Of course we are concerned ... it’s a strategic bomber, it’s also far away from the US,” Zhao told reporters. “I think the general relative peace and stability of the region do not require the flight of that kind of plane.”