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US, Philippines start naval exercise near South China Sea

Amphibious assault vehicles launched from the amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46), in South China Sea, conduct an amphibious landing exercise during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Malaysia 2011. Photo: US Navy.

PUERTO PRINCESA, PHILIPPINES (AFP): The United States pledged on Tuesday its "enduring commitment" to helping the Philippines, as the longtime allies began naval exercises amid a simmering maritime row with China.

Two state-of-the-art US missile destroyers sailed into Philippine waters to kick-start the 11 days of training, which will take place close to the much coveted South China Sea that is the focus of the regional tensions.

Both sides emphasised the event was an annual one aimed at deepening defence ties, and not linked to the rising concern in Manila about allegedly aggressive Chinese actions in the strategic and potentially resource-rich South China Sea.

"CARAT was planned in advance... the issue in the South China Sea started in February," Philippine Navy vice-commander Rear Admiral Orwen Corez said at an opening ceremony for the event, referring to it by its acronym.

"CARAT has nothing to do with the issue."

Nevertheless, the exercises were portrayed as a show of unity between the Philippines and its former colonial ruler.

"The US and the Philippines are allies and that is the strongest and most enduring commitment the two nations can make," the commander of the US 7th Fleet, Vice Admiral Scott Van Buskirk, said at the opening ceremony.

"Our alliance is underpinned by a deep and abiding US interest in the freedom and security of the Republic of the Philippines."

Philippine President Benigno Aquino this month called for US help in containing China's South China Sea ambitions, saying his country was too weak to stand up to the Chinese alone.

Aquino made his plea to the United States after accusing China of inciting at least seven recent incidents in the disputed waters, including one in which a Chinese vessel allegedly opened fire on Filipino fishermen.


US  Philippines  CARAT  Navy  Drills  

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