'Shoulder-to-shoulder' against China - US and Philippines conduct military drills
Incensed by China's hegemonic moves in the South China Sea, Manila is forging greater military ties with Washington to bolster its defense. In a show of strength, both countries are conducting joint military exercises.
Biggest in 15 years
US and Philippine soldiers began their largest joint military exercises in more than a decade on Monday, April 20, in what defense analysts say is Washington's rebalancing act in Asia in the face of China's expansion in South China Sea. In this picture, US marines aboard Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV) manuevre on disputed waters.
US marines take up positions during the annual "Balikatan" (shoulder-to-shoulder) war games with Filipino soldiers at the shore of San Antonio, Zambales, in the northern Philippines. Manila has been keen to boost its military capacity and show off its close ties to the US at a time when China flexes its muscles to gain control of the disputed South China Sea.
The two allies signed a defense pact in April last year, which gave the US a bigger military presence in the island nation. The deal was inked right before US President Barack Obama's arrival in Manila. Here, a US soldier gives instructions to Philippine military personnel during the war games at Fort Magsaysay, in Nueva Ecija.
China claims most of the potentially energy-rich waterway, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The US Pacific Fleet commander recently said China was "creating a great wall of sand" in the South China Sea, causing serious concerns about its territorial intentions. Beijing argues it is asserting its so-called "historic rights" to maritime resources in the area.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims, which have led to territorial disputes in the area. Last summer, China's deployment of a massive oil rig in waters also claimed by Hanoi escalated tensions in the region, sparking a standoff at sea and violent anti-Chinese demonstrations in Vietnam.
Risk of confrontation
Shortly before the start of the joint drill, Philippine military chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr released surveillance photos at a press conference showing Chinese "reclamation of eight previously submerged reefs in the disputed Spratly Islands." He said the move would increase the risk of confrontation.
But there is also opposition to US-Philippine "Balikatan" exercises in the country. On April 20, a demonstration was organized in the capital Manila against the military exercises.
US troops 'not welcome'
Protesters gathered outside the US embassy in Manila on April 20, displaying placards and denouncing the joint military drill.