Thousands of Philippine and US soldiers began annual war games yesterday, the first under a new security pact with the US, focusing on maritime security in the face of China’s growing naval presence in the disputed South China Sea.
The “Balikatan” (shoulder-to-shoulder) joint exercises would test the combat readiness of the two allies in this part of the world to respond to any maritime threats, including piracy and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
The new security pact was signed last week just hours before US President Barack Obama visited.
Obama said the agreement was a testament to Washington’s “pivot” to Asia and was an “ironclad” commitment to defend the Philippines.
The Philippines has territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea, which is said to be rich in energy deposits and carries about US$5 billion in ship-borne trade every year.
The Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) in the South China Sea are also claimed by Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
“Tensions in the Asia-Pacific region have increased due to excessive and expansive maritime and territorial claims, undermining the rule of law,” Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said at the opening ceremony at the main army base in Manila.
“The aggressive patterns of behavior aimed at changing the status quo threaten peace and stability in the region. Balikatan 2014, with its focus on maritime security, strongly supports our capabilities to address these challenges,” he said.
Asked about the exercises, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said all sides needed to work “constructively” to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
On Saturday, a Philippine Navy plane dropped food and water to troops stationed on a transport ship that ran aground on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal (Renai Shoal, 仁愛暗沙) in the South China Sea.
Chinese coast guard ships have set up a blockade around the shoal.
Nearly 5,500 US and Filipino troops are taking part in the two-week drills in different parts of the main island of Luzon.
The war games are to see US F-18 fighters rehearse bombing runs and troops involved in live fire drills.
Under a new security pact, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed last week during Obama’s visit, the US is to have wider access to local bases and construct facilities to store supplies and equipment for 10 years in exchange for increased support on maritime security and humanitarian assistance.
The annual war games come under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, part of a web of security alliances the US built in the Asia-Pacific region during the Cold War.
Dozens of leftwing activists protested outside the main army base in Manila, saying the Americans were using China as a bogeyman to gain a forward base in the Philippines.
“Our armed forces will not modernize just because we conduct war games with US forces,” left-wing group Bayan (Nation) Secretary-General Renato Reyes said.
“Our capacity to defend our territory against China will not be improved just because there are training exercises,” he added.
HELPING HAND: Taiwan is ready to help other nations and will not sit idly by while the global fight against the coronavirus continues, President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan, as a responsible member of the international community, is to offer humanitarian assistance to nations hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic by sending them masks and medicine, as well as sharing with them an electronic system that the government has been using to track down people that need to be quarantined, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said yesterday. With the nation’s daily production having reached 13 million masks and soon to reach 15 million, the government is to donate 10 million masks to medical personnel in nations most severely affected by the coronavirus, Tsai said at the Presidential Office in Taipei. The
NINE NEW CASES: The CECC said two locally transmitted cases of COVID-19, and seven imported ones – five women and two men – brought the nation’s total to 348 People who refuse to wear a mask on public transportation after being asked to do so would face a NT$3,000 to NT$15,000 fine, effective immediately, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said yesterday after announcing nine additional COVID-19 cases. In a move to curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications on Tuesday announced that people must wear masks on trains and intercity buses, while Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, on Tuesday said that people should wear them when they cannot maintain a social distance of 1.5m indoors. Chen yesterday
TRILLION PROPOSED: The premier said the goal was to keep ‘businesses solvent, the unemployment rate down, transportation and logistics going, and cash flowing’ The Executive Yuan yesterday announced an expanded economic stimulus package totaling NT$1.05 trillion (US$34.64 billion), including NT$81.6 billion in subsidies for employers to prevent a spike in unemployment. The increased budget comprises a special budget of NT$210 billion, up from the NT$60 billion already passed by the Legislative Yuan; NT$140 billion — up from NT$40 billion — to be appropriated from the general budget; and NT$700 billion in loans to industries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics Minister Chu Tzer-ming (朱澤民) told a news conference at the Executive Yuan in Taipei. The NT$150 billion increase in the
The Central Epidemic Command Center yesterday released a set of revised criteria for reporting suspected COVID-19 cases, while also announcing its guidelines for disclosing patients’ personal information. The center said that its advisory specialist panel revised the definition for “severe pneumonia with novel pathogens” — COVID-19 infection — by expanding the criteria needed to report suspected cases. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said that physicians should report people for testing if they meet one of three clinical conditions: They have a fever, acute respiratory infection, or a lack of smell or taste; there is a