Biggest Balikatan opens, to focus on maritime security
THE biggest Balikatan exercises in 15 years commenced on Monday at Camp Aguinaldo, with the reiteration of the United States’ commitment to the Philippines, its oldest ally in the region.
“We make no pretense that we are helping the Philippines as it builds a minimum credible defense and pretext its maritime security,” US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said in his speech at Camp Aguinaldo on Monday.
“To be clear, the US is committed to its alliances and in the case of the Philippines, our oldest in the region, that commitment is as President Obama has said are ironclad. At the same time, the US will always defend the important principles of freedom of navigation in the air and the sea and the peaceful resolution of disputes through legal, diplomatic and peaceful means,” he added.
The Balikatan exercises for 2015 has the biggest number of participating troops, with about 11,000 combined US and Philippine troops in 15 years.
The military exercises come as the US shifts its policy focus from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region.
The exercises will be held amid China’s increasing aggressiveness in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). China claims most parts of the disputed seas and the Philippines has its own claims.
The activities of both countries for the 10-day affair involve civil military projects, maritime security and disaster response.
Both the Philippines and US have earlier denied that the exercises were directed at China.
“Balikatan is about our alliance and about or friendships in the region…Working shoulder to shoulder as partners, friends and allies. It’s about preparing to confront emerging challenges across the Asia Pacific region. So let me just say that what we do in Balikatan and we’ve said it many times are not aimed at any country or any group of countries,” Goldberg said.
There are also participants and observers in the Balikatan exercises from Australia and other Asian countries including Brunei, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.
“Our Balikatan events contribute to ensuring the peace and stability of the region and the world,” said Brigadier General Mahoney, US director for Balikatan said.
“The Armed Forces of the Philippines is undergoing an impressive transformation forging strong bonds with partner nations that share their values. This growing capability is not a threat to other nations; but in fact promotes regional security,” he also said. AC
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