‘Strong message’ sent: AFP wraps up drills with US carrier group
Beijing slams ‘muscle-flexing, provocative’ exercise

‘Strong message’ sent: AFP wraps up drills with US carrier group

/ 05:36 AM January 06, 2024

Philippine military officials invited to the USS Carl Vinson watch F-18 and F-35 fighter jets being launched fromthe flight deck of the nuclear-powered American aircraft carrier on Jan. 4 as part of the maritime cooperative activities between the Philippines and the United States in the West Philippine Sea.

ALLIES ON DECK Philippine military officials invited to the USS Carl Vinson watch F-18 and F-35 fighter jets being launched from the flight deck of the nuclear-powered American aircraft carrier on Jan. 4 as part of the maritime cooperative activities between the Philippines and the United States in the West Philippine Sea. —PHOTO FROM COMDR. ALAN SONON, PHILIPPINE NAVY

ABOARD THE BRP GREGORIO DEL PILAR, West Philippine Sea — American fighter jets streaked above the vast expanse, after taking off from the nearby nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70).

Even when seen from several nautical miles, the Vinson cuts a silhouette potent with symbolism as one of the American warships that showed up for joint maneuvers with much-smaller Philippine Navy vessels.

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At least eight FA-18 and F-35 jets took off one by one from the carrier on Thursday as the two security allies wrapped up a two-day “maritime cooperative activity” (MCA).

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“The MCA with Carrier Strike Group sends a very strong message that the alliance is here, the alliance is strong and together we will face the challenges in the South China Sea,” said Western Command chief Vice Adm. Alberto Carlos, who flew to the Vinson with Northern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Fernyl Buca and four other military officials to witness the flight deck operations.

The Vinson and its escort ships—the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59), Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Kidd (DDG 100) and USS Sterett (DDG 104)—took part in the second MCA as both countries stepped up cooperation in the face of growing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

The Philippine side deployed the Del Pilar, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS-16) and landing platform dock BRP Davao del Sur (LD-602).

The exercises were marked by delays and cancellations. But overall, Carlos said, it was a success in terms of “the strategic messaging that we want to accomplish.”

Tailed by Sino ships

At least two Chinese warships—a Type 054 frigate with bow No. 570 and Type 05D destroyer 174—were seen shadowing the Philippine and US fleets during the two-day MCA.

Carlos said that while the Chinese presence had been a concern for both the Philippines and the United States, “We both agreed that under Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), if it’s [seen as an exercise of] freedom of navigation, they also enjoy that right to do that in our exclusive economic zone (EEZ).”

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“What was concerning was that the Chinese declared that they were operating within their jurisdiction, which is not true. Under the Unclos, the Philippines has jurisdiction of this area being part of our EEZ,” he said.

Unlike the behavior they showed when they tailed and harassed Philippine resupply missions to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal last year, this time the Chinese ships “kept their distance 3 to 4 miles away from our formation. All our activities were not disrupted. We were still able to safely conduct them,” Carlos said.

As of Friday, the USS Carl Vinson was already anchored in Manila Bay.

‘Provocative’

In Beijing, the Chinese government assailed the MCA as “provocative military activity” that could undermine stability in the South China Sea.

“We would like to stress that the US and the Philippines’ muscle-flexing, provocative military activities in the South China Sea are not conducive to managing the situation on the sea and handling maritime disputes,” said Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“We urge relevant countries to stop the irresponsible moves, and respect regional countries’ effort to uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Wang added at a press briefing.

Beijing has repeatedly warned Manila not to involve major powers, such as the United States, in the South China Sea dispute and just adhere to diplomacy and dialogue.

Insisting on China’s expansive claim to practically all of the South China Sea, Wang said Beijing would continue to “firmly safeguard our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights.”

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This was in reply to questions about the “routine patrol” conducted by the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command on the same day the MCA was held. —With a report from Jacob Lazaro

For comprehensive coverage, in-depth analysis, and the latest updates on the West Philippine Sea issue, visit our special site here. Stay informed with articles, videos, and expert opinions.

TAGS: Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine Navy, USS Carl Vinson, West Philippine Sea

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