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Monday, June 22, 2015, 11:59

Philippines steps up Sea drills with US, Japan forces

By Reuters

 Philippines steps up Sea drills with US, Japan forces
Philippine soldiers take their positions during an air assault exercise with US army soldiers from 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat of the 5th Infantry Division based in Hawaii inside the military training camp of Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province north of Manila, on April 20, 2015, at the start of the joint US-Philippines annual military exercise. (AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE)

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines - The Philippines will hold separate naval exercises with US and Japanese forces this week on a Philippine island that is not far from the disputed Spratly archipelago, where China's rapid creation of seven island outposts is stoking regional tensions.

Manila, which has one of the weakest navies in Asia, has stepped up its security cooperation this year in the South China Sea, not just with ally Washington, but also with Japan and Vietnam.

A Philippine military official said there was no plan for the Philippine, US and Japanese navies to hold combined exercises on Palawan island, 160 km from Nansha Islands, although the drills could intersect because Manila had limited naval assets.

"At some point all three forces could merge in one activity because we only have two ships and limited aircraft to take part in these exercises," said the official, who declined to be identified.

Late on Sunday, reporters could see two P3C-Orion maritime surveillance planes, one belonging to the United States and the other Japan, parked on a military airfield in Puerto Princesa City, the Palawan capital.

The two-week exercises with the United States began late last week. The two-day drills with Japan start on Tuesday, officials said. Both will take place in Philippine territorial waters.

While the Philippine military trains regularly with US forces, it only held its first joint naval drills with Japan in May. Tokyo has no territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has beefed up security cooperation across Southeast Asia this year.

 
 
 
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