BANGKOK (News21USA) — The United States and the Philippines are conducting joint air and maritime patrols in the South China Sea, as the two countries step up cooperation in the face of increasingly aggressive Chinese activity in the area.
The Philippine Air Force said Wednesday that its aircraft had participated in joint patrols the previous day in the vicinity of Batanes, the northernmost province of the Philippines, which is only about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Taiwan, a self-governing island that China claims it as its own.
The patrols will run through Thursday and also include the U.S. and Philippine navies. They come just days after Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. called the situation in the South China Sea increasingly “serious,” as China seeks to assert its presence in an area where multiple nations have territorial claims. in competition.
Asked about the patrols, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said Beijing’s position had been made clear to both the Philippines and the United States.
“The joint patrol exercise between the Philippines and the United States should not undermine China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” he said.
The US 7th Fleet said the patrols were part of the US’s routine interaction with its allies and partners to “preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea as its own waters, which has led to disputes not only with the Philippines but also Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei. These claims have long been seen as potential flashpoints in the region and have fueled rivalry between the United States and China.
Earlier this month, a Chinese coast guard ship attacked a Philippine supply ship with a water cannon in disputed waters, and last month a Chinese coast guard ship and an accompanying ship rammed a Philippine coast guard ship and a military supply ship near a disputed sandbar, according to Philippine officials.
Speaking on Sunday in Honolulu, Marcos said China has been showing interest in atolls and sandbars that are “increasingly closer” to the Philippine coast, with the closest atoll about 60 nautical miles (111 kilometers) from distance.
“Unfortunately, I cannot report that the situation is improving,” Marcos said. “The situation has become more serious than before.”
Announcing the start of the joint patrols, Marcos said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that they were “testimony of our commitment to strengthening the interoperability of our military forces.”
“Through collaborative efforts, we aim to enhance regional security and foster a seamless partnership with the United States to safeguard our shared interests,” he wrote.
Under Marcos, who was elected last year, the Philippines has been deepening its relationship with the United States in a shift from his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who had been closer to China and Russia.
In February, Marcos approved an expansion of the U.S. military presence in the Philippines to add four new bases from five existing sites under a 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the longtime treaty allies.
The move, which Marcos said would boost the Philippines’ coastal defense, dovetails with the Biden administration’s efforts to strengthen an arc of military alliances in the Indo-Pacific to better counter China.
Marcos has also been strengthening ties with other countries, including Tokyo, and signed an agreement earlier this year to allow Japanese troops to join training exercises.