China floats joint military drills with Philippines


The proposal will be studied, the Philippine military chief said.

China floats joint military drills with Philippines

Chinese Navy personnel stand guard as the Chinese naval training ship “Qi Jiguang” docks at the Port of Manila for a four-day goodwill visit, June 14, 2023. Credit: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

The Philippines will weigh a proposal from China for joint military exercises, the Filipino armed forces chief said about the prospect of drills between the two countries with a longstanding territorial dispute.

The idea of conducting unprecedented exercises with China was initially floated during the administration of Rodrigo Duterte, the previous Philippine president, but that never materialized. 

During his term (2016-22), Duterte drew his country closer to Beijing and away from the United States, Manila’s traditional defense ally.

The Chinese ambassador broached the latest proposal, which was “informal” in nature,  at an embassy gathering on Wednesday night, Philippine military chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said.

“They offered that prospect, but we have to study [it] further,” he told reporters on Wednesday, without expanding on the matter.

He, however, did reply “no,” when asked whether the prospective drills would take place in the disputed South China Sea, as is the case with joint Philippines-U.S. exercises.

The Philippines has no accord with China that is similar to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) it has with the U.S., which would be necessary for conducting bilateral drills. 

BenarNews contacted the Chinese Embassy in Manila for comment but did not immediately hear back.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including waters within the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. 

In July 2016, an international arbitration court ruled in favor of the Philippines, and threw out China’s expansive claims in a legal case arising from their territorial dispute. Beijing has refused to acknowledge that ruling.

In recent years, China has increasingly intruded into the Philippines’ South China Sea waters to stake its claims, leading to tense interactions between the two countries. 

The Philippine government has filed 99 notes verbales, or diplomatic protests, against China since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office last year. 

Still, Brawner said, the Philippine military would seek to be “friends to all, enemy to none” following Marcos’ directive.

“So we will naturally toe the line. That is what we are going to do, we [will] try to establish relations with armies, with armed forces around the world and this is one way for us to actually prevent war,” Brawner said.

Earlier this week, Marcos talked at length about protecting the Philippines’ sovereignty in his State of the Nation Address. He said the Philippines would always follow international law – a veiled reference to Beijing.

Last month, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said there would be nothing wrong if the Philippine and Chinese forces held military exercises if these were for “confidence-building and trust training.”

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.

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