4:20 am | Friday, June 28th, 2013
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT, Philippines—The joint naval exercises between the Philippines and the United States have nothing to do with the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), but these have to do with US President Barack Obama’s “pivot strategy” in Asia, a US Navy official said.
At the opening of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Carat) 2013 in this former American naval base on Thursday, US Navy Rear Adm. Thomas Carney said the exercises were “part of the rebalance that the US is looking to reinforce its relations, not only militarily but economically and politically with Asia.”
The exercises will run until July 2.
China said parties in the unresolved territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea should instead promote peace in the region, stopping short of calling the naval exercises provocative.
“We have seen the report and hope that relevant parties could do more to maintain regional peace and stability rather than the opposite,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said, referring to the US-Philippine naval exercises.
Asked about a report on supposed plans to put up another American military base in the Philippines, Carney said the idea was “highly speculative.”
“That’s certainly an issue for the Philippine government [to respond to]. I wouldn’t want to comment on that,” he said.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin denied the report, saying the Philippines had no plans to build new air and naval bases but would allow the United States and other allies access to its existing military bases.
Carney said the Carat was part of the “longstanding relationship and commitment we have with the Philippines.”
Rear Adm. Edgardo Tamayo, Philippine Navy vice commander, said the exercises would increase the level of “interoperability” between the Philippine Navy and the US Navy “in the conduct of combined naval operations.”
In a statement, the Philippine Navy said it would use the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a Navy aircraft (Islander), the Special Boat Team, the diving team of the Naval Special Operations Group (Navsog) and the construction team from the Naval Engineers and the Philippine Marine Corps to test their readiness and capability.
The Philippine Coast Guard, meanwhile, will send the BRP Edsa, a helicopter, a diving team, and a search and seizure team.
The US Navy will use the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald, USNS Safeguard and USNS Salvor.
The exercises will also include in-port and at-sea events, individual and unit training and engagement with the local community, among other activities.
Members of the US Marine Corps and other specialized personnel will also join the war games.
Impact on Panatag
Zambales Vice Gov. Ramon Lacbain II said that despite the statements of US and Philippine military officials, the Americans’ presence would have an impact on the Panatag Shoal dispute with China.
“This is a much-needed military exercise being undertaken by the Philippine and US military forces. I know that this exercise will definitely enhance the capability of our armed forces to protect our sovereignty, most especially on the part of Zambales where the disputed territory is located,” Lacbain said.
“We appreciate the show of support and the actual training being conducted by American forces for our Filipino soldiers,” he added.—With a report from Tarra Quismundo
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