US-PH 36th Balikatan opens amid rising tension in Julian Felipe Reef

Published April 12, 2021, 6:34 PM

by Roy Mabasa

Amid the brewing tension in the West Philippine Sea following the massing of Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef), the United States on Monday assured that it will continue to seek ways to strengthen its security cooperation with the Philippines.

US Charge d’Affaires John Law made this commitment during the opening ceremony of the 36th Balikatan Exercise (BK36-21) in a ceremony held at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on Monday, April 12.

Law thanked the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for hosting US troops in the latest iteration of the annual military exercise between the two countries.

“Joint exercises like Balikatan demonstrate our shared commitment to peace and stability and the adaptability of U.S. and Philippine forces.  The United States will continue to seek ways, even during the pandemic, to strengthen our security cooperation,” he said.

Col. Aaron Brunk of the US III Marine Expeditionary Force and Officer in Charge for Exercise Support Group said by training together, the two militaries build upon each other and strengthen and add value to their partnership and friendship.
On Sunday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III spoke with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to reaffirm their commitment to the US-Philippine alliance.

The talks between the two defense officials came shortly after Manila filed a series of diplomatic protests against China following the presence of over 200 Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef.

Austin reiterated to his Filipino counterpart the US commitment to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific based on international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

In July 2016, the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippine petition to invalidate China’s excessive nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.