US

The US and the Philippines are holding their largest combat drills in decades after China conducted mock air and sea attacks off the coast of Taiwan.

The pre-planned annual “Balikatan” exercises will involve more than 17,600 military personnel and include live-fire drills such as a boat-sinking rocket assault in waters across the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

It will be the latest display of American firepower in Asia and is likely to further inflame tensions with China, which does not recognise Taiwan’s independence.

Chinese warplanes and navy ships remained in the waters around Taiwan on Tuesday following the end of China’s three days of war games, the island’s defence ministry said on Tuesday.

“We are not provoking anybody by simply exercising,” Colonel Michael Logico, a Philippine spokesman for Balikatan, said ahead of the start of the manoeuvres.

“This is actually a form of deterrence”, he added. “Deterrence is when we are discouraging other parties from invading us.”

America’s warships, fighter jets as well as its Patriot missiles, HIMARS rocket launchers and anti-tank Javelins, are to be showcased during the drills, officials say.

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Field scenarios such as a boat-sinking in Philippine territorial waters are designed to “test the allies’ capabilities in combined arms live-fire, information and intelligence sharing, communications between manoeuvre units, logistics operations, amphibious operations,” the US Embassy in Manila said.

The exercises take place amid a push by Joe Biden‘s administration to strengthen an arc of alliances in the Indo-Pacific to better counter China, including in a possible confrontation over Taiwan.

Washington has repeatedly warned China over what it sees as its increasingly aggressive actions in the disputed sea channel and against Taiwan.

Relations between the two superpowers were further strained recently after it was revealed that the Chinese spy balloon that flew over the US was able to gather intelligence from several sensitive American military sites.

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