At a press conference in Manila on April 14 with Philippine counterpart, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the U.S. military has started conducting maritime joint patrols in the South China Sea with the Philippines. Carter said the first joint patrol was carried out in March, while defense officials revealed a second joint patrol was completed in early April, according to a report by VOA News.
“Our planners are examining ways on how to make such patrols part of our regular activities,” Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said at the conference, according to the VOA report.
Philippine and American forces will also“conduct flight operations in the area, including the South China Sea, and lay the foundation for joint air patrols to complement ongoing maritime patrols,” Sec. Carter said in the Joint Press Conference. The air operations will include a contingent of U.S. aircraft and 200 airmen that participated in Balikatan joint military exercises and will remain stationed at Clark Airbase of the Philippines. The initial contingent consists of five A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft, three H60G Pave Hawk helicopters and one MC-130H Combat Talon aircraft.
A command-and-control node made up of American personnel here for the exercise will also remain behind. “They will continue exercising combined U.S.-Philippines command-and-control capabilities and support increased cooperative activities in the region.”, Carter said.
In response, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lukang said on Friday that “The actions taken by the US and the Philippines contaminate relations among regional countries, provoke conflicts in the region, aggravate tensions and jeopardize peace and stability in the South China Sea. It is clear to all who is pushing ahead militarization in the South China Sea.”
Chinese Defense Ministry also “urged the United States and the Philippines not to impair others’ interests when conducting their military cooperation, adding that the Chinese military was paying close attention to the situation and would “resolutely defend China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime interests.”, Xinhua reported.
Joint patrols between Vietnam and the Philippines?
A discussion to explore possible joint exercises and navy patrols between Vietnam and the Philippines has also been initiated, Reuters reported citing military sources from both Vietnam and the Philippines.
“These are initial discussions,”a senior military official told Reuters. “These may take time but we would like to move to the next level.”
The report comes as Vietnam’s vice defense minister, Nguyen Chi Vinh, and the Philippines’ undersecretary of defense, Honorio Azcueta, met last week, Prashanth Parameswaran wrote in The Diplomat.
At the dialogue, Azcueta and Vinh agreed to intensify defense ties in various dimensions – including exchanges, mechanisms, dialogues and cooperation in the naval domain with issues ranging from anti-piracy to search and rescue. Joint patrols, however, were not publicly listed as an area of future cooperation, Parameswaran noticed.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the meeting between Vinh and Azcueta last week was the first-ever Vietnam-Philippines defense policy dialogue. In fact, the first defense policy dialogue was held in 2015.