U.S., Philippines launch joint patrols in South China Sea

The U.S. said on Thursday it has launched joint South China Sea naval patrols with the Philippines, escalating its presence as it accused Beijing of “militarising” a region which is locked in territorial disputes.

In a show of strength, U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter also announced that 275 troops and five A-10 ground attack aircraft currently in the country for annual war games will remain there temporarily.

China warned deployments must not damage “regional stability”, but Mr. Carter said Washington’s efforts to strengthen its military role in the region were not done “in order to provoke”. He said the U.S. was responding to regional anxiety over China’s muscular actions in the South China Sea, including building artificial islands over disputed reefs.

“Countries across the Asia-Pacific are voicing concern with China’s land reclamation, which stands out in size and scope, as well as its militarisation in the South China Sea,” Mr. Carter said.

The joint naval patrols, which began last month, “contribute to the safety and security of the region’s waters,” he said after meeting with Philippines President Benigno Aquino. Manila has been improving its defence ties with the United States to help boost its ability to defend its territory.

China’s Foreign Ministry reacted coolly to the U.S. deployment. A statement read: “The military activities of the relevant countries should not be targeted at a third country, and moreover should not support the efforts of some countries to provoke China on issues of sovereignty and security, adding to regional contradictions and damaging regional stability.” China claims most of the South China Sea.

Mr. Carter announced that 275 American troops, among about 5,000 military personnel taking part in the annual Balikatan war games, are to stay behind after the exercises end on Friday.

Five A-10C Thunderbolt ground attack planes and four other aircraft will also remain until the end of the month.

Some 200 of the U.S. personnel are to train Filipino soldiers, as well as “conduct flight operations in the area, including in the South China Sea”, Mr. Carter said. — AFP