Philippines, US troops start 2-week drills amid sea tension

Philippine and U.S. troops will start a two-week joint military exercise on Monday, resuming their annual drills amid tensions in the South China Sea.

More than 1,000 Filipino soldiers and 700 from the U.S. will participate in the drills, Philippine military chief Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana told reporters by phone on Sunday, adding that it’s a smaller group compared to previous exercises given the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. and Philippine defense secretaries discussed the South China Sea situation and the recent massing of China’s militia vessels at Whitsun Reef in a phone call on Sunday.

During the call, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stressed the importance of continuing the 1998 visiting forces agreement that facilitates joint military exercises between the two countries, while Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana asked Austin’s assistance to expedite the delivery of the Moderna vaccines the Southeast Asian nation has ordered, a spokesman of the Philippines’ defense department said.

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