The United States and the Philippines began their annual joint naval maneuvers on Monday (Oct. 2), days after a row between Beijing and Manila over a floating barrier set up near a disputed reef in the South China Sea.
More than a thousand sailors take part in these maneuvers, off the capital Manila and south of Luzon, the main island of the Philippines, which include anti-submarine warfare exercises, between surface ships and electronic warfare exercises.
"Sailing and manoeuvring together"
The commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Karl Thomas, said at an opening ceremony in Manila that the rights of all nations to protect their national sovereignty "are under attack every day on the high seas."
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, an important crossroads of commercial shipping routes. The claims are causing growing concern among Washington and its allies in the region, with Beijing ignoring a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that there was "no legal basis for China to claim historic rights" over most of the sea and its resources.
The order" based on international rules that has guaranteed peace for decades has been "torn to shreds and tested for the benefit not of all nations but of one nation," Vice Admiral Thomas added, without explicitly mentioning China.
There is no better way to ensure sovereignty and security than to sail and manoeuvre together," he said. Asked who he was referring to, Vice-Admiral Thomas told a news conference that it was important to preserve the right to navigate in the area "without worrying about being attacked" or "intimidated."
China harasses Filipino coast guard and fishermen
In recent weeks, Beijing has deployed patrol boats to, according to Manila, harass Filipino coast guards and fishermen.
In late September, President Ferdinand Marcos ordered a special operation to dismantle a floating barrier installed by China according to Manila at the entrance to Scarborough Shoal, which China took control of in 2012, at the expense of the Philippines. This prevented Filipino fishermen from accessing this area rich in fishery resources.
China responded by "advising the Philippines not to provoke or create unrest." Commander of the Philippine Navy, Vice Admiral Toribio Adaci, stressed that the joint exercises allow for better preparation "to face a range of threats together."
According to U.S. fleet officials, the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey, an ammunition carrier and a P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft will take part in the maneuvers over the next twelve days. Also participating will be a Filipino missile frigate, a Japanese destroyer and the Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Vancouver.