Jason GUTIERREZ news.yahoo.com Thousands of American and Philippine troops launched large annual exercises on Monday after US President Barack Obama vowed "ironclad" backing for its Asian ally, locked in a tense maritime row with China. Filipino Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the 10-day drills were necessary to deal with the challenge of "aggressive" neighbours intent on "changing the status quo". He did not mention China directly, but Beijing has been robust in its efforts to assert territorial claims over most of the South China Sea, putting a strain on its relationships with neighbouring countries. "In recent years tensions in the Asia-Pacific region have increased due to extensive and expansive maritime and territorial claims undermining the rule of law," del Rosario said at the opening ceremony. "Aggressive patterns of behaviour aimed at changing the status quo threaten peace and stability in the region." He added that the military exercise, known as Balikatan (Shoulder to Shoulder), with its focus on "maritime capability", boosted the Philippines' ability to "address these challenges". The Philippines last year asked a United Nations arbitration tribunal to declare what Manila said was Beijing's claim to 70 percent of the South China Sea as illegal and a threat to freedom of navigation. The seabed is believed to contain huge deposits of oil and gas and the waters straddle vital sea lanes. Beijing has rejected UN arbitration and urged Manila to settle the dispute through bilateral talks instead. About 2,500 US soldiers are joining 3,000 Filipino troops in the manoeuvres, which began a week after President Obama assured Manila his government was committed to a 1951 mutual defence treaty. Dozens of Australian troops, including Special Forces, were invited this year as the exercises begin to expand to eventually include other key allies in the region. Looking to raise its regional defence platform, Australia will be bringing P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft to the drills to help boost Manila's "maritime domain awareness," said Wing Commander Nicholas Pratt of the Royal Australian Air Force. to read more: news.yahoo.com
Sign up for our free e-mail list to see future vaticancatholic.com videos and articles.