Philippine and U.S. soldiers started two weeks of military exercises on Monday against a backdrop of rising tensions in the South China Sea, though the drills were reduced in scale due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The countries are proceeding with the exercises, which were postponed last year due to the pandemic, after Manila recently accused China of territorial incursions by hundreds of its vessels manned by militias in the South China Sea.
Chinese diplomats, however, have said the boats were just sheltering from rough seas and no militia were aboard.
Philippine military officials said the “Balikatan” (shoulder-to-shoulder) war games that end on April 23 will involve drills in tabletop and simulation form rather than field training.
Social distancing protocols significantly cut the number of troops participating to nearly a thousand from close to 8,000 in previous years.
All ground exercises were cancelled except for live fire exercises which do not entail face-to-face engagement, Major General Edgard Arevalo, the exercise director, said in a speech.