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Philippines, US kick off drills in disputed waters of South China Sea

US exercise director for Balikatan Lieutenant General William Jurney (L) speaks at the military headquarters in Quezon City, suburban Manila on April 22, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

The United States and the Philippines have kicked off three weeks of joint military exercises in disputed waters of the South China Sea in a move that is likely to further escalate tensions between the military allies and Beijing.

The annual military exercise, which began on Monday, will run until May 10 and involve more than 16,700 Filipino and US troops.

More than 250 French and Australian forces will also take part in the military exercises, known as the Balikatan, which means "shoulder to shoulder" in Tagalog.

Six vessels would participate, including four 44-meter multi-role response boats and two larger patrol vessels.

The drills will involve a simulation of an armed recapture of an island off the western province of Palawan, near the South China Sea.

The war games — the longtime treaty allies’ largest annual military drills — will be extended for the first time beyond 12 nautical miles off the Philippine coast and into waters claimed by China.

The Philippine military claims that the joint drills are not directed at a particular country, but some of their main conflict scenarios are set in or near the disputed waters.

China has recently warned Manila against provocative actions in the waters, after the China Coast Guard intercepted a foreign vessel that "tried to forcefully intrude" into its territorial waters. 

China claims almost the entire South China Sea. Its claims to the sea overlap the ones by other countries, including the Philippines and Vietnam.

The United States has no territorial claim over the waters or features, but supports Manila in its territorial disputes and regularly conducts patrols there.

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