US Coast Guard Holds Exercise with Philippine Ship in South China Sea

The American military has carried out an exercise with Philippine forces in the South China Sea.

The exercise on May 14 involved the United States Coast Guard cutter ship Bertholf and two Philippine coast guard ships, the U.S. military reported online.

Military officials said it was the first time in seven years that a U.S. Coast Guard ship had visited the Philippines. The training activities included “search and rescue, maritime security and law enforcement capabilities,” the Indo-Pacific Command said.

The officers and crew were “excited to visit Manila and work with our counterparts in the Philippine Coast Guard,” Bertholf’s commanding officer Captain John Driscoll said in a statement.

While there, the American crew also had the chance to learn about Filipino culture and meet local people through organized events, military officials said.

Captain John Driscoll, left, commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard National Security Cutter Bertholf (WMSL 750), and Philippine Coast Guard Spokesman Commander Armand Balilo, talk to the media during a port call by the U.S. cutter Wednesday, May 15,

Captain John Driscoll, left, commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard National Security Cutter Bertholf (WMSL 750), and Philippine Coast Guard Spokesman Commander Armand Balilo, talk to the media during a port call by the U.S. cutter Wednesday, May 15,

Driscoll told reporters during a briefing in Manila that two Chinese coast guard ships were seen in the area of the exercise. Philippine media reported the Chinese ships were in a disputed area of the South China Sea west of the main Philippine island of Luzon.

China and the Philippines have competing territorial claims to the area, which includes a small island called Scarborough Shoal.

China claims most of the South China Sea, an important waterway through which trillions of dollars in trade passes each year. The area contains rich fishing waters and is believed to hold oil and natural gas. The Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia also claim ownership to parts of the sea.

The Philippines and others have criticized China for using undersea landforms in the South China Sea to build islands. China has placed military structures and equipment on some of these artificial islands.

Security experts say the coast guard ship was sent to show a new form of U.S. resistance against Chinese expansion in the South China Sea.

Stephen Nagy is a professor of politics and international studies at International Christian University in Tokyo. “That’s a message to Beijing that the United States is engaging in the region at four or five different levels, not just a military level,” he said.

Philippine Coast Guard personnel salute to welcome the U.S. Coast Guard National Security Cutter Bertholf (WMSL 750) as it arrives for a port call in the first visit by a U.S. cutter in over seven years, Wednesday, May 15, 2019 in Manila, Philippines. (AP

Philippine Coast Guard personnel salute to welcome the U.S. Coast Guard National Security Cutter Bertholf (WMSL 750) as it arrives for a port call in the first visit by a U.S. cutter in over seven years, Wednesday, May 15, 2019 in Manila, Philippines. (AP

The United States makes no claim to the 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea. But U.S. officials say they want to keep the waterway open internationally.

With this goal in mind, the U.S. Navy has sent ships into the sea 11 times since President Donald Trump took office in 2017. The most recent was Sunday, when the USS Preble passed within 22.2 kilometers of Scarborough Shoal.

A top American military commander said last week that U.S. Air Force planes also fly over the South China Sea daily in an effort to protect freedom of overflight. “We fly on a daily basis in and around the South China Sea and really across the region,” the commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces General Charles Q. Brown Jr. told reporters.

Brown said the U.S. Air Force flights are not offensive and aim to ensure that all nations can fly where international laws permit them to. “It’s something that I think all nations should be able to do,” he said. “I realize that, sometimes, you know, China does not like that fact.”

China has repeatedly criticized U.S. military sea and air activity in areas of the South China Sea it claims as its own territory.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Ralph Jennings reported this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted it for Learning English, with additional information from the Associated Press and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

maritime adj. relating to ships and sea travel

counterpart n. ​someone who has the same job or position as someone in a different place or organization​

engage v. interest someone in taking part in something

region n. particular area in a country of the world

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