World Philippines, U.S. defence chiefs hope to resume joint military drill

11:25  11 april  2021
11:25  11 april  2021 Source:   reuters.com

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“`We hope that the relevant U . S .- Philippines drills can work in this direction,'' she told a daily news briefing. Protesters picket the headquarters of the Armed Fo. The Associated Press reported on Monday that dozens of left-wing activists protested outside the military camp where the opening ceremony was held. They said the drills and a recently signed agreement that allows a larger U . S . military presence in the country would trample the Philippine Constitution, which prohibits foreign troops except when their presence is covered by a treaty.

Philippine and United States military officials agreed to scale back joint exercises and reduce U . S . troop deployments, a Philippine general involved in the talks said on Tuesday, though a statement issued by the allies spoke of "close cooperation". The joint statement omitted mention of any reduced level of engagement between the two militaries , though President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed his opposition to having foreign troops on Philippines ' soil and has threatened to scrap exercises and abrogate pacts.

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine and U.S. defence chiefs on Sunday expressed hopes to resume the joint "Balikatan" military exercise that was cancelled last year, as they discussed the situation in the South China Sea.

Delfin Lorenzana wearing a suit and tie: FILE PHOTO: Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana answer questions during a Reuters interview at the military headquarters of Camp Aquinaldo in Quezon city, metro Manila © Reuters/Romeo Ranoco FILE PHOTO: Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana answer questions during a Reuters interview at the military headquarters of Camp Aquinaldo in Quezon city, metro Manila

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin III also discussed in a telephone conference recent developments in regional security, according to a statement issued by Lorenzana's department.

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said joint military exercises scheduled for October between the Philippines and the U . S . will be the last for the longtime allies, as he seeks to avoid upsetting China, with which he hopes to build stronger trade and investment ties. He also said he would end routine The military treaty with Washington was recently updated to allow more American troops to stay in the Philippines for an extended period. Mr. Duterte said he was ending the routine joint patrols in the South China Sea because they, too, risk military confrontation between China and the U . S ., with the

The drill was part of the "Balikatan" or "shoulder-to-shoulder" defence exercises which involved thousands of troops and dozens of military assets, including a squadron of fighter jets. The Philippines is one of the Southeast Asian nations in a dispute with China over small islands in sea lanes crucial to world trade. Tensions have also increased in the region following North Korea' s latest outburst of nuclear and military threats. US and Filipino officials said the "Balikatan" exercise aims to promote regional peace and security and improve the interoperability and contingency planning of both forces.

"Both are looking forward to the conduct of Exercise Balikatan," the statement said.

Their conversation comes just days after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, also in a phone call, expressed their shared concerns about Chinese vessels, which Manila believes are manned by militia, in the South China Sea.

a man wearing glasses and a suit and tie: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Japan © Reuters/KIM KYUNG-HOON U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Japan

The Philippines has protested against the presence of the Chinese boats inside its 200-mile exclusive economic zone at Whitsun Reef in the strategic waterway, repeatedly asking China to move the vessels away.

Chinese diplomats, however, have said the fishing boats were just sheltering from rough seas and no militia were aboard.

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Acting U . S . Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Sunday that for now it was not necessary to resume major joint military exercises with South Korea that were suspended in the last year to support diplomatic efforts with North Korea. "The continued presence of Chinese maritime militias in the area reveals their intent to further occupy (areas) in the West Philippine Sea," Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement, using the local name for the South China Sea. It was the second hostile statement by Lorenzana in two days as he repeated calls by the Philippines for the Chinese

The Philippines and the United States have agreed to ramp up bilateral military activities next year to 261 joint exercises, from 258 this year. The agreement was made during the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) meeting hosted by the U . S . Pacific Command in “Our utmost priority is the interest of the country, that’ s all.” Exercises in the West Philippine Sea ( South China Sea) such as the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) as well as the joint Amphibious Landing Exercises (Phiblex) were scrapped following Duterte’ s order to scale down joint

Austin, during the telephone conference, reiterated the importance of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries, while Lorenzana committed to discussing the matter with President Rodrigo Duterte.

In February, Duterte said he had not made a decision yet on the future of the two-decade-old troop deployment agreement with the United States.

The VFA provides the legal framework under which U.S. troops can operate on a rotational basis in the Philippines.

Relations between the United States and its former Asian colony have been complicated since 2016 when Duterte, who has repeatedly made statements condemning U.S. foreign policy while befriending China, rose to power.

Duterte has said the United States must pay more if it wants to maintain the VFA, which he unilaterally cancelled last year in an angry response to an ally being denied a U.S. visa.

The VFA's withdrawal period has been twice extended, creating what Philippine officials say is a window for better terms to be agreed.

Lorenzana likewise sought the assistance of Austin in expediting the delivery of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Moderna that the Philippines has ordered.

Austin "would look into the issue and bring it to the attention of the office concerned", the statement said.

(Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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