Balikatan exercise

PH expects China to ‘behave properly’ during Balikatan in West Philippine Sea

Bea Cupin

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PH expects China to ‘behave properly’ during Balikatan in West Philippine Sea

Filipino scientists, accompanied by personnel from the BFAR and PCG, conduct an assessment at cays close to Pag-asa in the West Philippine Sea on March 21, 2024.

Photo by PCG

The Philippine Navy says there is an increase in Chinese ships in the vicinity of the West Philippine Sea, just days before a ‘multilateral maritime exercise’ is scheduled in those waters

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Navy said on Tuesday, April 23, that it expected Chinese vessels to “behave properly” during a joint sail in the West Philippine Sea in late April for Exercise Balikatan 2024. 

The navies of the Philippines, the US, and France, will venture into the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines in the South China Sea for the multilateral maritime exercise (MME) component of the yearly war games by the Philippines and the US. 

The activity, which is taking place beyond the Philippines’ territorial waters for the first time, will see the three navies conducting different operations including search and rescue drills. France is participating in the war games for the first time. 

Asked if they expected China to make its presence in those water felt, a Navy official was quick to say no.

“It is an activity between the US and the Philippines. Historically, the illegal, unprovoked, uncalled for actions of China will only be [towards the Philippines]. I don’t expect them to do anything illegal because of the presence of foreign war ships,” said Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad, the Navy’s spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea. 

“That has been the call ever since, [for China] to follow international law…. And I expect them to behave properly this time,” he added. 

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Chinese ships – from its Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy, China Coast Guard, and Chinese Maritime Militia – are constantly present in the West Philippine Sea, or part of the South China Sea that includes the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. 

Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, even if a 2016 Arbitral Award deemed its 9-dash line invalid. Its claim of the South China Sea has since expanded to a 10-dash line, which still covers features within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, as well as features that other countries also claim. 

Over the past few weeks, the Philippine Navy has monitored a steady increase of Chinese vessels, particularly from the Chinese Maritime Militia, a fleet of fishing ships that serve as force multipliers for both the Chinese Navy and coast guard. 

From just 78 Chinese vessels in the first week of April and 79 in the second week of April, Philippine officials have monitored over 124 Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea.

Most were monitored close to Bajo de Masinloc off the coast of Zambales, close to Ayungin Shoal off the coast of Palawan, and in Pagasa Island, a feature inhabited by both civilians and soldiers that is located beyond the Philippine exclusive economic zone. Over the weekend, two Chinese Maritime Militia ships sailed as close as up to 30 nautical miles from mainland Palawan. 

Trinidad said most of the Chinese Maritime Militia ships were anchored and “nesting,” meaning they were anchored right next to each other, forming a raft of vessels at sea.

They are not always that calm in the West Philippine Sea. Chinese Maritime Militia often hound Philippine ships during missions in to the West Philippine Sea, especially during military resupply operations to Ayungin Shoal.

Over 16,000 troops from the Philippines and the US, and hundreds from Australia and France. Some 14 countries, including those in Southeast Asia, will be sending representatives as observers. The Philippine Coast Guard will be part of this year’s war games for the first time, to provide perimeter support during the MME. –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.