The Philippines announced Wednesday that it will be holding its largest joint military exercises with the US since 2015 amid heightened tensions in the region with China.
According to Reuters, the US and the Philippines will hold their annual Balikatan exercises in the second quarter of this year. The 2022 iteration involved 8,900 troops from both countries and was the largest since 2015, but this year’s drills are set to be even bigger.
The announcement comes after the US signed a deal with the Philippines to expand its military presence. The US military will be granted access to four new locations in the Philippines, giving the Pentagon a total of nine bases in the country where it can rotate troops through.
The announcement of the Balikatan exercises also comes after the latest incident between Chinese and Philippine vessels in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Manila claimed a Chinese vessel pointed a laser device at a Philippine boat near the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, which is controlled by the Philippines but also claimed by China.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. summoned China’s ambassador to express “serious concern” over the incident. The US expressed support for the Philippines after the incident and reminded Beijing that it’s willing to go to war if Philippine vessels come under attack in the region, warning it would invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty.
“The United States stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order and reaffirms an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft, including those of the Coast Guard in the South China Sea, would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.