The United States and the Philippines will hold joint naval exercises next week in waters close to disputed areas of the South China Sea.
Eleven days of manuvers will start Tuesday, after a pledge by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday that Washington was ready to provide hardware to the Filipino military amid rising tension at sea with China.
The guided missile destroyers USS Chung-Hoon and USS Howard and the diving and salvage ship USNS Safeguard will arrive Tuesday at the western Philippine island of Palawan, a joint statement said.
“The US and Philippine navies have a long history of working together, and exercises like (these) provide a great venue for us to hone our skills and increase our inter-operability,” the US commander Captain David Welch said.
The exercises will be held in the Palawan area, the joint naval statement said, without specifying where.
Palawan’s west coast faces the South China Sea, where tensions over the resource-rich area have been escalating, with the Philippines and Vietnam alarmed at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by Beijing.
China, the Philippines and Vietnam, along with Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan, lay claim to all or parts of the Spratlys, a South China Sea island chain close to Palawan.
The statement said the drills aim to hone maritime security capabilities in interdiction, information sharing, combined operations, patrol operations and gunnery, along with anti-piracy and anti-smuggling know-how.
The US navy holds similar regular bilateral exercises, called Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training, with the armed forces of Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, the statement said.
Vietnam also takes part in a similar event known as Naval Exchange Activity, it said.