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China holds sea patrols as U.S., Philippines drill in same region

China said its navy and air force conducted patrols in the South China Sea, an event that comes as the U.S. and the Philippines hold maritime drills in the same region, reflecting the rising tensions in the contested waterway.

The “routine” operations on Wednesday and Thursday aim to “resolutely safeguard China’s sovereignty, security, and maritime rights and interests,” the People’s Liberation Army said in a post on social media.

The PLA added that its forces were on “high alert” and “fully aware of and prepared for any military activities that spoil the South China Sea and create flashpoints.” China’s military didn’t say where its patrols happened or what types of aircraft and vessels were involved.

Tensions between China and the Philippines have flared in recent months, with their vessels facing off in the contested wasters. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last month warned that relations between Beijing and Manila were facing “serious difficulties” amid the friction in the body of water that Beijing claims nearly entirely as its own.

Days after Wang’s comments, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Philippine counterpart Enrique Manalo discussed “important opportunities” to further strengthen their longstanding alliance in 2024.

On Wednesday, the Philippine and U.S. militaries began their second maritime drills in the South China Sea in less than two months. The Philippines deployed four naval vessels, a multirole helicopter and an anti-submarine helicopter in the contested waters, while the U.S. dispatched an aircraft carrier, a cruiser, two destroyers and multiple combat aircraft.

The Philippines and the U.S. resumed joint patrols in the South China Sea in November after they’d been halted for years. The PLA said around that time that a frigate was also conducting patrols in the sea.

Source: Japan Times