Australia, Japan participate in Balikatan exercises

May 10, 2017, 03:02
Australia, Japan participate in Balikatan exercises

After months of uncertainty, the US-Philippines annual joint exercises began in Manila on Monday (8 May), but it is reported to be on a much smaller scale compared to past years.

The changes were directed by President Rodrigo Duterte, who has had an antagonistic stance toward US security policies while expanding security ties with China and Russian Federation.

Mr Duterte had earlier sought to scrap live-fire drills and war games near the South China Sea from this year's Balikatan - a Tagalog word meaning "shoulder to shoulder" - to appease China.

Opening rites for the "Balikatan" or "Shoulder-to-Shoulder" exercises were led by Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US Ambassador Sung Kim at the Philippine military's headquarters in metropolitan Manila.

Philippines, US kick off annual joint military exercise

Far fewer soldiers on both sides are participating in the joint exercises compared to previous year when about 11,500 soldiers took part in the joint venture.

The Balikatan (Shoulder to Shoulder in English) exercises started in 2002, with the goal of launching a global campaign against terrorism after the infamous September 11, 2001 terror attack on New York's twin towers. "Of course, we all hope it gets bigger", he said.

The announcement was made by US Armed Forces Major, Frank Sayson, the designated spokersperson for the joint exercise, a week after Duterte announced that he wanted a joint military exercise with China in Sulu.

For operational reasons, the military did not disclose the number of U.S. and Filipino soldiers participating in this year's exercise, although the previous Balikatans were usually attended by more than 7,000 soldiers.

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Trump even invited Duterte to the White House, in a move that riled human rights activists who claim Duterte wantonly ordered the deaths of drug suspects.

The current edition of Balikatan will be restricted to anti-terrorist and disaster response operations only, explained the military spokesperson to EFE.

Nicholson said they were not disappointed the exercise would only cover counterterrorism and humanitarian response under its scaled-down activities, noting the scope of the bilateral exercise changes every year.

"If you look back on 33 years of Balikatan, they are all different".

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The Philippines endures about 20 major storms a year that sweep in off the Pacific Ocean, many of them deadly.

Foreign policy analyst Richard Javad Heydarian said Duterte had acted pragmatically by downgrading military ties with the United States but not severing them as he had threatened.

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