MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Australian and Philippine forces, supported by US Marines, trained to retake an island captured by hostile forces in a major military exercise Friday on the northwest coast of the Philippines facing the disputed South China Sea.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and visiting Australian Defense Secretary Richard Marls watched the mock beach landings, attacks and helicopter insertion of troops at a Philippine naval base with the participation of 1,200 Australians, 560 Filipinos and 120 US Marines.
On Monday, Australian, Philippine and US forces conducted an air attack air exercise in the town of Rizal in western Palawan province, which also faces the South China Sea.
The three countries are among the most vocal critics of China’s aggressive actions and increasing confrontation in the disputed waters, but the Philippine military said Beijing was not the perceived target of the combat exercise, the largest so far between Australia and the Philippines.
“It’s an important aspect of how we prepare for any eventuality, given that there are so many events that testify to the volatility of the region,” Marcus said in a post-rehearsal press conference.
Speaking at a separate press conference with his Philippine counterpart, Gilberto Teodoro Jr., Marles said the exercises aim to strengthen the rule of law and peace in the region.
“The message that we want to convey to the region and the world from an exercise of this kind is that we are two countries committed to the rules-based global order,” Marlies said. “We are committed to the idea of a world in which conflicts are determined by reference to international law.”
“Peace is maintained by protecting the rules-based global order and its functions all over the world, and in fact, all over the world today, we see it under pressure,” Marlies said.
Marlies and Teodoro said in a joint statement that they would pursue plans for joint patrols in the South China Sea, which Australia’s defense minister said could begin soon.
They reaffirmed their support for a 2016 ruling by an arbitration court in The Hague under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which largely invalidated China’s claim to nearly the entire South China Sea and upheld Philippine control of resources within 200 nautical miles. The exclusive economic zone.
China refused to participate in the arbitration and continues to challenge the ruling.
in the latest clashes In the conflicts, a Chinese coast guard ship used a water cannon on Aug. 5 to try to block Philippine supplies at Second Thomas Shoal, where Filipino troops are stationed.
Australia and the United States have expressed support for the Philippines and raised strong concerns about the actions of Chinese coast guard vessels. Washington renewed a warning that it is obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest ally in Asia, if Philippine troops, ships and aircraft are attacked, including in the South China Sea.
Two Filipino supply boats I managed to pass the Chinese blockade, on Tuesday, in a tense confrontation witnessed by journalists from the Associated Press.
China has warned the United States not to get involved in what it says is a purely Asian dispute. Washington said it would continue to patrol the disputed waters to enhance freedom of navigation and overflight.
Besides China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan overlap claims in the waterway, a potential flashpoint in Asia that has also become a sensitive front in the US-China rivalry.
Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.