SAN ANTONIO, ZAMBALES, Philippines (Agencies): Collaborative maneuvers involving Australian and Filipino military forces unfolded on Friday in the vicinity of the contentious waters of the South China Sea, an area hotly disputed by China. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos lauded these exercises as a profoundly significant illustration of close partnership.
China asserts dominion over almost the entire South China Sea, deploying a substantial fleet of coast guard, navy, and other vessels to both assert its claim and fortify reefs, despite a global ruling discrediting its legal basis for such actions.
The cooperative drills took place at a naval base approximately 240 kilometers to the east of Scarborough Shoal, a valuable fishing location that China seized from the Philippines in 2012 amid a tense standoff.
“With the numerous events highlighting the volatility of the region, exercises like these, featuring strategic collaboration among neighboring nations, take on an immense significance,” remarked Marcos during a media interaction. He further emphasized the exercises as crucial preparations for potential scenarios. He observed the drills alongside Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles.
These joint exercises, encompassing air, sea, and land components, mark the first extensive partnership of such nature between the two countries. Their primary objective was to simulate the recapture of an island under hostile control.
Approximately 1,200 Australian soldiers, supported by 560 Filipino marines, conducted a staged beach landing as part of the exercise, utilizing amphibious assault vehicles, parachutes, and US Osprey aircraft. The operation saw advanced Australian F-35 fighter jets offering close air support, while Australian warships secured the surrounding waters.
This joint training followed an incident on August 5, when Chinese coast guard vessels obstructed a Philippine resupply mission to Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea by using water cannons. In response, the Philippine Navy grounded a World War II-era vessel deliberately on the shoal in 1999, establishing a small garrison to counter China’s encroachment in the area. A subsequent mission, however, managed to successfully deliver supplies to the outpost.
The Chinese coast guard stated that humanitarian considerations prompted their decision to allow the resupply, asserting that the Philippine vessels did not carry materials for large-scale reinforcements.
In a parallel diplomatic effort, the Philippines recently hosted a meeting with fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China to engage in negotiations regarding a code of conduct in the South China Sea.