While protesters call for peaceful togetherness and an immediate stop of the power games in the Asia Pacific, tensions between China and the USA are rising due to joint military exercise in the South China Sea after Chinese military maneuvers close to Taiwan.
Starting on April 11th, Balikatan, the largest-ever joint military exercise of the US, the Philippines and Australia is taking place in the South China Sea. Overall, more than 17,700 military personnel with 12,200 troops from the US, 5,400 fighters from the Philippines and about 100 soldiers from Australia will be joining live-fire exercises as well as a boat sinking rocket assault.
Until the end of the maneuver on April 28th, the troops will be deployed on four different military bases all over the Philippines – including a naval base close to Taiwan – and military helicopters will be landing on the northern tip of the main island of Luzon which is only 300 km away from Taiwan.
Although the undertaking was planned long in advance and happens annually, its unprecedented scope, location, and timing directly after China’s military exercises around Taiwan further spur tensions in Asia.
Referring to the Biden administration continuously seeking to strengthen its alliances in the Indo-Pacific, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning accused the operation of being provocative and causing “more tensions and less peace and stability in the region” last week. Similarly, China’s ambassador in the Philippines, Huang Xilian’s recent statement that “countries in this part of the world must uphold strategic independence and firmly resist the Cold-War mentality” indicates the rising tensions in the South China Sea.
On the other hand, Colonel Michael Logico, Philippines spokesperson for Balikatan, claims that Balikatan is “not provoking anybody by simply exercising. (It) is actually a form of deterrence (…) when we are discouraging other parties from invading us.” The exercises “will sharpen our inter-operability, increase our proficiency and complement our capabilities through collaboration, ensuring we are prepared to respond to real-world challenges together,” said Eric Austin, First US Marine Aircraft Wing commander.
Time will tell how the situation in the South China Sea will develop. However, the inherent danger of those power games to not only burn down important diplomatic bridges between peoples in the South Pacific but to furthermore lead to actual military eruptions seems obvious to the 50 or so protesters who staged a rally outside the opening ceremony venue in the Philippines and the protesting student groups in front of the United States Embassy in Manila on April 11th. Voices against the joint drills and for a peaceful togetherness have also been raised in the US where over 60 Filipinos and members of anti-war organizations protested for peace in Time Square.
Photo courtesy of NYCity News Service, A student-powered service at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.