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U.S., Philippines to hold massive military exercises from next week

Balikatan drills in South China Sea will be 'one of the largest ever'

The Balikatan military drills, held jointly by the U.S. and Philippines, will train personnel in amphibious operations. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy)

MANILA -- American and Philippine armed forces will hold wide-ranging military drills next week in the Southeast Asian country in what is seen as a show of force against China's growing presence in the South China Sea.

The Balikatan joint exercises are scheduled from Monday through April 8. U.S. personnel will number 5,100 while the Philippines will send 3,800 troops.

The two militaries canceled the annual drill in 2020 because of the pandemic and held a sharply scaled-down version last year. This year's Balikatan exercises provide a chance to show the strength of the bilateral relationship after past uncertainty on whether a military agreement would be renewed.

This year's exercise will be "one of the largest-ever iterations," the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines said in a news release Tuesday.

The exercises will take place in the Philippine island of Luzon, according to the U.S. Embassy. Participants will "train shoulder-to-shoulder focusing on maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban operations, aviation operations, counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief."

Although the U.S. and the Philippines have a military alliance, President Rodrigo Duterte announced in 2020 he would terminate the visiting forces agreement, which grants legal authority for joint exercises to be held within Philippine's borders.

Washington and Manila ensured that the agreement will remain in place during U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visit to the Philippines in July.

For the U.S., the South China Sea represents the front lines of tensions with China. The Philippines forms part of the first island chain, a key concept for military planners in assessing China's access to the Pacific Ocean.

Duterte has said the Philippines is ready to offer its military facilities for the U.S. to use if the Ukraine conflict spills over into Asia.

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