South China Sea Exercises Fortify Once Edgy U.S.-Philippine Relations


Analysts say joint naval exercises by the Philippines and the United States in the South China Sea are an indication the island nation is drawing closer to its former colonizer and historic friend after several years seeking warmer relations with the United States’ cold war foe, China.

The exercises, July 9-16, include two Philippine warships and two ships, plus an aircraft carrier from the United States, according to the U.S. Navy’s Indo-Pacific Command website. The venue off the west coast of Luzon Island adjoins a tract of the sea where the Philippines and China dispute sovereignty.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, in office now for two years, had put aside the sovereignty dispute to build relations with China and sidelined the United States. Analysts say Duterte is now seeking to renew relations with Washington because Philippine citizens, the armed forces and even members of the Cabinet favor a stronger maritime defense.

China isn’t expected to give up on its friendship with the Southeast Asian archipelago, however, unless the joint exercises get bigger.

“In recent months there has been a very subtle shift of attitude on the side of the Philippines, so I think this sort of move, to have joint exercises with the U.S., is in line with that,” said Oh Ei Sun, international studies instructor at Singapore Nanyang University.