A US Navy aircraft carrier conducted joint patrols and exercises with the Philippine military in the South China Sea in the latest US provocation in the region aimed at China.
The USS Carl Vinson and its strike group, which includes a cruiser and two destroyers, participated in the operations on Wednesday and Thursday along with four Philippine vessels, including two former US Coast Guard cutters.
“The maritime cooperative activity marks a significant leap in our alliance and interoperability with the United States. It also demonstrates our progress in defense capabilities and development as a world-class armed force,” said Romeo Brawner Jr., chief of staff of the Philippine Armed Forces.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin was asked about the joint drills and denounced them as a provocation. “We would like to stress that the US and the Philippines’ muscle-flexing, provocative military activities in the South China Sea are not conducive to managing the situation on the sea and handling maritime disputes,” he said.
The US and the Philippines relaunched joint patrols in the South China Sea in November, marking the first in seven years. But this week’s patrols were a much larger show of force as only one American littoral combat ship and a surveillance plane participated in November.
The US and the Philippines restarted the patrols amid soaring tensions between Manila and Beijing in the South China Sea, where the two countries and several other Southeast Asian nations have overlapping claims. In 2023, the frequency of Chinese and Philippine encounters near disputed reefs skyrocketed as the US and the Philippines boosted their military alliance.
Some of the encounters between Chinese and Philippine vessels resulted in collisions or the Chinese Coast Guard firing water cannons. The incidents mainly took place when the Philippines was trying to resupply a ship it had grounded on Second Thomas Shoal, a reef claimed by both sides.
Philippine President Marcos Ferdinand Jr. has taken a much harder line against China’s claims to the South China Sea, and he’s been emboldened by increasing support from the US. After each encounter in the South China Sea, the US usually reiterates that the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty applies to attacks on Philippine vessels in the South China Sea, meaning the US is ready to intervene if the dispute turns hot.