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Philippines announce biggest ever joint military drills with U.S.

The Philippines and the United States will carry out their biggest-ever joint military drills next month, a spokesperson for the event said on Tuesday. The exercises highlight improved ties between the U.S. and the Philippines under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

This year’s “Balikatan” or “shoulder-to-shoulder” drills are also supposed to prepare against the backdrop of what the Philippines calls “aggressive” Chinese actions in the South China Sea.

The drills, held from April 11 to 28, will see 17,600 participants from both sides, including around 12,000 from the U.S., and “live-fire exercises” for the first time, according to Col. Michael Logico director of the Philippine military’s training center and spokesman of the event.

This year's #BALIKATAN will include live-fire exercises at sea– a first for the US-PH war games, according to Logico.

Previous joint combat training activities were held inside airbases and land-based military camps, limiting the participation of naval units | @davidyusantos

— CNN Philippines (@cnnphilippines) March 14, 2023

“This is officially the largest Balikatan exercise,” the colonel emphasized.

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The larger-scale drills follow President Marcos’ decision last month to expand the United States’ access to his country’s military bases, which China says undermines regional stability.

Regarding the possibility of the joint exercises further infuriating China, Logico said that “we [the Philippines] have the absolute, inalienable right to defend our territory. We are here to show that we are combat-ready.”

“Shoulder-to-shoulder” military drills

The Balikatan exercises are to be carried out across several provinces, including Palawan, which is near the South China Sea. Furthermore, some 111 participants from the Australian defense force are expected, though their participation will be limited to “smaller land-based exercises,” Logico said.

The contingent from the Australian Defense Force will be participating in #BALIKATAN 2023 since there is an existing Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOFVA) between Manila & Canberra | @davidyusantos

— CNN Philippines (@cnnphilippines) March 14, 2023

Previously, the biggest joint drills were undertaken in 2015, with more than 11,000 troops participating.

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