Tensions have been on the rise lately between the US and China, which claims self-governed Taiwan as its territory. While the US says it still supports the “One China” policy, it has pledged to support Taiwan’s right to defend itself from invasion and sent arms to the island. Plus, tensions were already high in the South China Sea, where China has claimed disputed territory as its own, including Philippine fishing grounds. In July, the US told China it should comply with a 2016 ruling that invalidated some of these territory grabs while reminding Beijing that the US would defend the Philippines should any of its forces, vessels or aircraft be attacked.
Now, the US and the Philippines have launched joint naval exercises off the Philippine coast. Through October 14, these drills will involve 2,550 American and 530 Filipino troops and will include island-based exercises, live fire and humanitarian aid. Japan and South Korea are also joining the exercises as observers.
At the same time, local fishermen are opposed to the drills, saying it could worsen the South China Sea situation, as China may respond with its own military activities there. Local fisher organization Pamalakaya’s vice-chair Bobby Roldan called for “demilitarization of the country’s fishing grounds” so they “could fish in peace.”
“The rules that protected China as a developing coastal state now seem like an unfair constraint on a China that believes that it should be able to impose its will on its neighbors,” Greg Poling, director of the US-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), said about the South China Sea dispute.
“Our strength, resolve and commitment to our allies and partners in the region are our most effective deterrent. Together, we can deter potential adversaries from ever testing our capabilities or our relationships,” US Marine Lt. Col. Kurt Stahl told The Associated Press.
“Our territorial waters in the West Philippine Sea are already militarized by China, and the last thing we need is another superpower carrying out power-projection and naval operations that pose another security threat to Filipino fishers,” Bobby Roldan was quoted as saying by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.