US, Philippines launch largest-ever joint war games

Dubbed the ‘Balikatan Exercise 2023’, the war games bring together 17,680 troops – an estimated 12,000 Americans, 5,000 Filipinos, and more than a hundred Australians – who will take part in live-fire drills and other maneuvers until April 28.
The drills will reportedly focus on enhancing maritime and coastal defenses and will involve live-fire drills at sea for the first time ever.
“This year’s Balikatan will be the biggest ever, an indication of the growth of our alliance, and how it continues to evolve to meet our shared goals,”‌ said Heather Variava, chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Manila.
Gen. Andres Centino, the Philippine military’s chief of staff, was quoted as saying the drills would not only bolster bilateral ties between the two countries but “contribute to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region in a definitive manner.”
“All these major events are intended to ensure the achievement of the end state of our Balikatan 2023 exercises, which is to fully develop mutual defense capabilities to enhance cyber defense operation and strengthen the country’s maritime security and domain awareness,” Centino said.
The forces of the two countries will bombard and sink a decommissioned ship in waters facing the South China Sea during the drills. 
“We are demonstrating that we are combat-ready. We have the capacity to deliver fires on a target — from the land, from the air and from the sea,” said Mike Logico, Balikatan 2023 spokesperson.
During the opening ceremony at the Philippine military headquarters on Tuesday, dozens of activists gathered outside the venue to protest against the exercises, holding banners that read “US troops out now! No to US war game in the Philippines”‌, “US imperialist no. 1 terrorist! Anakpawis (Party)”.
“It’s not intended to defend the Philippines, it’s not intended to help the Philippines modernize, it’s really intended to showcase US power and it is a preparation war,” said Renato Reyes, secretary general of the leftist-aligned BAYAN organization.
Last week, China warned that the US strengthening its military deployment in the Philippines would only lead to more tension in the region after Manila allowed Washington access to four additional bases.
The war games come immediately after China ended three days of military exercises around Taiwan amid heightened tensions between Beijing and Washington over the self-ruled island.
Taipei’s defense ministry, however, said on Tuesday the Chinese warships and aircraft were still operating around Taiwan. It claimed to detect nine Chinese warships and 26 aircraft around the island as of 11:00 am (0300 GMT) on Tuesday.
Beijing regards Chinese Taipei as an inseparable part of its territory and has vowed to take it back one day, even by force if necessary.
The US does not recognize Taiwan as a country and officially supports the “One China” policy, but regularly oversteps its own stated principles. The island has become China’s most sensitive territorial issue and a major bone of contention with Washington.
Washington continues to antagonize Beijing by siding with Taipei’s secessionist administration, engaging in frequent military missions around the island, and serving as its largest weapons supplier.

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