US and the Philippines Conducted Exercise at Scarborough Shoal
Philippine and U.S. forces has conducted their annual joint naval exercise, including drills near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, which is claimed by Manila and Beijing.
The six-day exercises which began on June 27 until July 2 have been held every year since 1995, with more than 600 personnel from the US Navy and around 200 from the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard taking part this year.
Capt. Ruel Saonoy, the Philippine head of the exercise, said China should not feel alarmed, adding the drills “send the message to our neighbors that our (US and Philippines) navies share common interests in keeping our seas and littorals open for safe commerce.”
Philippine Navy spokesman Gregory Gerald Fabic said the plan to hold this year’s drills in the shoal area was made five years ago, long before fresh tensions between China and the Philippines erupted last year.
The Philippines says China has effectively occupied the Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing area, as well as areas of the South China Sea close to the shores of its smaller neighbors.
Chinese maritime vessels have been maintaining a presence in the shoal area following a confrontation with the Philippine Navy in April last year.
The situation escalated when the Philippine Navy was about to apprehend Chinese fishermen caught in possession of endangered marine species when Chinese maritime personnel intervened.
Reacting to the announcement of the drills, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday in Beijing, “We think relevant sides should take actions that are beneficial for maintaining peace and stability in the region, (and not create tension).”
The Philippine officials said some of the drills will be held in the coastal waters of Pangasinan, La Union and Zambales in the western part of main Luzon island, close to Scarborough Shoal.
The drills are aimed at enhancing the two countries’ naval operations “through subject matter lectures and practical exercises focusing on communication, naval gunnery, at-sea operations, maritime interdiction, humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations,” an official statement by the Philippine Navy said.
Scarborough Shoal, which is about 124 nautical miles from Zambales province, was a popular fishing ground for Filipino, Chinese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese fishermen until last year’s standoff, which triggered an influx of Chinese surveillance ships threatening non-Chinese fishermen.
In January, the Philippines brought the territorial disputes with China, which also include areas around the Spratly islands located south of Scarborough Shoal, before the United Nations.
Malaysia Flying Herald