Some 4,500 American troops and 2,300 Filipino troops will conduct war games in the Philippines as part of an annual drill while Manila is embroiled in a territorial dispute with China.
The Balikatan, or "shoulder to shoulder," exercise will run until the end of next week and will see the participating troops hold mock maritime security enforcement in waters off Palawan island facing the Spratly Islands and the South China Sea, both of which China is claiming as part of its sovereign territory.
The forces will also conduct field training and counter-terrorism exercises as well as civic services in local communities in Palawan. This will be simultaneously done with similar war games in Nueva Ecija and Pampanga provinces in central Luzon island. Pampanga used to host a U.S. air force base.
Philippine officials said the war games were not meant to provoke China as the two countries' naval ships face off in Scarborough Shoals, which Manila claims is part of the western Luzon province of Zambales. China calls the island Huangyan Dao.
Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the war games had been scheduled long before the standoff transpired.
Last week, a Philippine Navy patrol ship caught eight Chinese fishing vessels near the island and attempted to arrest the fishermen for allege poaching when two Chinese surveillance vessels appeared and prevented the apprehension by positioning between the naval ship and the trawlers.
The two countries exchanged diplomatic protests over the incident. Foreign Affairs department officials from both sides are talking to resolve the issue and defuse the tension.
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