U.S., Philippines start drills amid territorial spat with China

Mon Apr 16, 2012 8:08am EDT
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By Manuel Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) - American and Filipino troops launched two weeks of annual naval drills on Monday amid a territorial stand-off between China and the Philippines as the United States seeks to reinforce its influence across the Asia-Pacific.

The most recent dispute between China and the Philippines entered its second week, with a Philippine coast guard ship and two Chinese maritime surveillance vessels faced off near the Scarborough shoal, west of a former U.S. navy base at Subic Bay, once the biggest outside the United States.

Chinese fishermen refused Manila's request to hand over their haul, highlighting Manila's powerlessness to confront its giant neighbour and its need to keep its main ally, the United States, sweet.

China has territorial disputes with several countries in the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas and is crossed by important shipping lanes.

China has sought to resolve the disputes one-on-one but there is concern among its neighbours over what some see as its growing assertiveness in staking its claims over the sea and various islands, reefs and shoals.

Philippine officials hope the war games, in which nearly 7,000 American and Filipino troops will simulate assaults for the first time in an area near the South China Sea, will become more frequent.

"We need the U.S. to bring stability and security," said an army major-general who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the press.

Before the Philippines voted to remove U.S. bases in 1992, Chinese fishing boats kept clear of waters near the Scarborough shoal, the general said.   Continued...

A demonstrator with her son, displays placards during a protest in front of the Chinese consular office demanding that the Chinese government immediately pull out from Scarborough Shoal, in Makati's financial district of Manila April 16, 2012. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco