ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Philippines-US naval exercises come at tense timeBy David Swartzemtruber
Two US missile destroyers patrol Philippine waters close to the resource-rich and strategically vital South China Sea that is at the heart of the regional territorial dispute.
Howeve,r the Philippines and the United States insist the annual event is aimed at long-term cooperation, and not linked to concern in Manila about aggressive Chinese actions in the South China Sea.
Nevertheless, the exercises are being seen in Manila as a timely show of unity between the Philippines and its former colonial ruler.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino this month called for US help in containing China's South China Sea ambitions, saying his country was too weak to stand up to the Chinese alone.
Aquino made his plea to the United States after accusing China of inciting at least seven recent incidents in the disputed waters, including one in which a Chinese vessel allegedly opened fire on Filipino fishermen.
Aquino also accused China of breaking international law by entering the Philippines' 200-nautical-mile economic exclusion zone.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week, pledged that the US would help to modernise the cash-strapped Philippine military.
"We are determined and committed to supporting the defense of the Philippines," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims to parts of South China Sea, which is believed to have vast deposits of oil and gas.
Vietnam has made similar complaints as the Philippines in recent months, prompting concerns that China is becoming a regional bully as its economic and military strength grows.
In its response, China has insisted it intends to resolve the territorial dispute peacefully but remains firm in its claims to most of the South China Sea, even waters within the Philippines' 200-nautical-mile exclusion zone.
The exercises, called Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), will take place in the Sulu Sea.
About 800 US sailors will be involved in CARAT, as well as the two guided missile destroyers and a salvage ship.
The Philippine navy said it would deploy two World War II-era vessels armed only with cannons for CARAT.
About 300 Philippine sailors will take part, according to navy spokesman Lieutenant Noel Cadigal.
The United States is scheduled to stage similar exercises with Vietnam next month, although it has insisted they too are unrelated to the South China Sea tensions.
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