US, Japan, Philippines to Hold Drills Amid China Tensions

(Bloomberg) -- The US will hold joint exercises with Coast Guards from Japan and the Philippines for the first time starting this week amid elevated tensions with China in the region.

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The trilateral drills will be done off Bataan province that’s facing the South China Sea from June 1 to 7, according to a Philippine Coast Guard statement Monday. The exercises will “strengthen interoperability” and will include maritime law enforcement training and maneuvering drills, it said.

The exercises are unrelated to Manila’s sea dispute with Beijing, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Armand Balilo told reporters. “This is a routine exercise between Coast Guards,” he said, adding that the US and Japan both requested the joint drills.

The Coast Guard drills are the latest display of cooperation between the US and its allies in Asia, as Washington’s rivalry with China heats up. Some 400 crew members on four ships will join the trilateral exercises, with Australia and India possibly participating as observers, Balilo said.

The US and the Philippines last month held the largest version of their flagship military exercises, using rockets and combat aircraft to simulate sinking an enemy ship as part of war games, conducted in an area also near the South China Sea.

The Philippine Coast Guard has been in the front line of lingering tensions with China in disputed waters, most recently having a near collision with Chinese ships. Amid this spat, the Southeast Asian nation under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has been bolstering its defense alliance with the US, with American troops gaining expanded access to Philippine areas earlier this year.

(Adds more details from Philippine Coast Guard from third paragraph.)

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