Members of the leftist Bayan Muna party-list protest outside China's consular office in Manila against China's reclamation and construction activities in the Spratlys. (photo by Jay Directo, AFP)
Thousands of American and Filipino soldiers on Monday will kick off expanded war games, showcasing a deepening defense alliance as alarm bells ring over
The 10-day exercises in the
are an annual affair
between the longtime allies, but this time they will involve double the number
of soldiers as last year in a sign of their expanding military partnership. Philippines
is seeking more US military
and diplomatic support to fend off China's
increasing forcefulness in its bid to assert sovereignty in disputed areas of
the South China Sea.
In an interview with AFP last week, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said the two militaries operating side-by-side should offer a "deterrent aspect to any entity, be it a country or Islamic radicals."
Aquino insisted the Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) war games starting on Monday were not directed at
China, pointing out they were annual exercises,
but he discussed at length the Philippines'
reliance on the . United
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario also said last week the
to ask Washington for extra help in containing
"We are, at this point, seeking additional support from the
in terms of being able to take a stronger position, in defending our position,
which is to uphold the rule of law," Del Rosario told local broadcaster
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei
have overlapping claims. Taiwan
It has also embarked on giant reclamation works on reefs and islets, turning some into islands capable of hosting military aircraft landing strips.
has been the most vocal of the rival claimants to express alarm over 's moves. China
In his interview with AFP, Aquino warned that the world should fear
in the South China Sea.
US President Barack Obama also expressed concern this month, criticizing
for "using its sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate
"Just because the
or Vietnam are not as large
doesn't mean that they can just be elbowed aside," Obama said. China
has been looking to rebuild its military presence in the Philippines, a former colony where it had naval
and air bases until the early 1990s, as part of Obama's "pivot to Asia."
The two nations, bound by a 1951 mutual defense treaty, last year signed another pact -- the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement -- that would allow more
in the Philippines, although
the Supreme Court in
still needs to ratify it. Manila
Even without the implementation of the new pact, more than 12,000 soldiers from both sides will be involved in this year's Balikatan exercises, double last year's number.
On Tuesday, marines will conduct beach landing exercises from a naval base facing the South China Sea just 220 kilometers (140 miles) from the Philippine-claimed shoal that
has controlled since 2012. China
Aside from the naval base, live fire and disaster response drills will also be held in various military camps outside