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09 December 2023

Manila, US plan military drills in South China Sea

By Reuters

The United States and the Philippines are set to hold military drills that may anger Beijing near disputed waters in the South China Sea, testing their readiness to protect offshore oil and natural gas platforms, a Marine general said on Thursday.

Philippines Lieutenant-General Juancho Sabban, military commander on western island of Palawan, said it is the first time an annual exercise will be focused on protecting offshore energy platforms, adding that the drills should not anger China which also has territorial claims in the region.

"Why should they be angry, this is an annual activity," he said, referring to China, one of six states claiming sovereignty over the South China Sea.

The drills are to be held near the country's Malampaya gas project, owned by Chevron Malampaya LLC, a unit of the U.S. energy firm, and Shell Philippines Exploration B.V, a unit of Royal Dutch Shell.

"The purpose there ... is to protect or retake any platform that are under attack by terrorists," Sabban said, adding amphibious exercises on Palawan's western coastline, facing the disputed Spratlys, are also planned.

Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines also have conflicting claims over the disputed area believed to have rich deposits of oil and gas.

Since 2002, U.S. army special forces have held separate training for Filipino troops fighting a group of al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants in the southern Philippines and take part in humanitarian missions in areas where militants are active.

The U.S. military has also held regular military exercises with Filipino counterparts under a 1951 security treaty with its former colony.