2nd October 2023 – (Manila) In a show of solidarity and maritime cooperation, the United States and the Philippines commenced their annual joint naval war games on Monday. The exercises come just days after another diplomatic dispute between Manila and Beijing over the contentious South China Sea. Over a thousand sailors from both nations are participating in the “Samasama” drills, focusing on anti-submarine, surface, and electronic warfare, which are being conducted off the coast of Manila and the southern region of Luzon, the Philippines’ main island.
The assertiveness displayed by China in the South China Sea, where Beijing claims almost the entire territory despite an international ruling in 2016 that deemed its claims baseless, has raised concerns for Washington and its regional allies. Vice Admiral Karl Thomas, the chief of the US Pacific Command, addressed the sailors at the opening ceremony in Manila, emphasizing the importance of safeguarding national sovereignty rights, stating that they are “under attack every day on the high seas.”
Thomas further highlighted that the “rules-based international order,” which has been crucial in maintaining regional peace for decades, has come under strain, benefiting only one nation without explicitly mentioning China. He stressed the significance of sailing and operating jointly to uphold sovereignty and security. When questioned about the specific target of his remarks, Thomas emphasized the need to ensure freedom of navigation in the area, free from concerns of attack or intimidation.
Recent weeks have witnessed Beijing deploying patrol boats that Manila claims harass Philippine coast guard vessels and fishermen in the region it refers to as the West Philippine Sea. In response, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos authorized a special operation in which Coast Guard personnel cut a rope tethering a floating barrier at the Chinese-controlled Scarborough Shoal. The barrier had been preventing Filipino fishermen from accessing the fish-rich ring of reefs, which China seized in 2012.
In reaction to Manila’s actions, Beijing issued a warning, urging the Philippines “not to provoke or stir up trouble” and reiterating its sovereignty and maritime rights over what it calls Huangyan Island. Vice Admiral Toribio Adaci, the Philippine Navy chief, emphasized that the Samasama exercise equips their forces to confront a range of threats together.
The US Navy has deployed the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey, a dry cargo ammunition ship, and P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft to participate in the exercises over the next 12 days. The Philippine Navy guided missile frigate will also take part, joined by a destroyer from the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force and the Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Vancouver. Additionally, Britain, Japan, Canada, France, and Australia are sending personnel for tabletop exercises as part of the drills, while New Zealand and Indonesia will be present as observers.
The joint naval exercises between the United States and the Philippines serve as a demonstration of their commitment to regional stability and the preservation of maritime security. As tensions continue to rise in the South China Sea, these drills aim to enhance coordination and interoperability between the two allies and their partners, sending a clear message to assertive actors in the region regarding the importance of upholding international rules and protecting the shared interests of nations involved.