The United States and the Philippines will conduct their annual joint military exercises, known as “Balikatan,” in the second quarter of this year. “Balikatan” means “shoulder to shoulder,” and Commanding General of the Philippine Army Romeo Brawner recently announced that this year would involve the largest joint drills since 2015.
The exercises will take place against the backdrop of intensified, aggressive moves by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The latest occurred earlier this month when the PRC Coast Guard allegedly used laser devices against the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard ship in the South China Sea. The ship was a Philippine patrol vessel on a resupply mission to Filipino forces. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement, “The PRC’s conduct was provocative and unsafe, resulting in the temporary blindness of the crewmembers of the BRP Malapasua and interfering with the Philippines’ lawful operations in and around Second Thomas Shoal. More broadly, the PRC’s dangerous operational behavior directly threatens regional peace and stability, infringes upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as guaranteed under international law, and undermines the rules-based international order.”
The PRC continues to make vast territorial claims to the South China Sea, despite a legally binding decision by an international tribunal in 2016 that such claims have no basis in international law. After the latest incident, Defense Department Spokesperson General Patrick Ryder tweeted, “The PRC’s actions stand in direct opposition to the United States, the Philippines’ and likeminded nations’ commitment to sovereignty and international law, including the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling which unequivocally rejects PRC claims to Second Thomas Shoal.”
State Department Spokesperson Price emphasized that the United States “stands with our Philippine allies,” and warned that “an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft, including those of the Coast Guard in the South China Sea, would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 U.S. Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.”
Pentagon Spokesperson General Ryder tweeted, “The Department will redouble its efforts with our Philippine ally to bolster the defense capabilities of the Armed forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Coast Guard as we work shoulder-to-should to uphold the rules based international order.”