MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – US Defense Secretary Ash Carter will visit the Philippines this month to observe the Philippine-US Balikatan war games, a US military general said during the opening of the annual exercises on Monday, April 4.
Carter is the first top US defense official to observe the war games since both governments started holding joint military exercises. His visit also coincides with the implementation of a new military agreement between the two countries, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
“The Secretary is going to be here toward the end of the exercise. He’s going to actually observe a couple of things. He’s very interested in the High Mobility Rocket System and how that works and he’s also going to spend some time out at sea with the US Navy ships that’s going to be out there,” said Lieutenant General John Toolan, Balikatan 2016 co-director.
“I believe that his main purpose here is to reaffirm that the relationship we have with the Philippines is rock solid,” Toolan added.
EDCA allows the US military to build facilities and preposition defense assets inside Philipine military bases. It was negotiated against the backdrop of rising tension in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), but the implemenation was delayed because of legal challenges.
US and China have been in a word war over China’s militarization of the major international trade route.
While Toolan did not identify which naval exercise Carter is going to join, most of these joint naval activities are conducted in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
It won’t be the first time for Carter. Last year, he made a high-profile visit to a US aircraft carrier in the South China Sea.
Palawan-based Western Command chief Lieutenant General Alexander Lopez leads the planning for the Balikatan exercises. He has responsibility over the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea, including Scarborough Shoal in Zambales. – Rappler.com