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U.S. and Philippines Bolster Air and Sea Patrols in South China Sea

Philippine and American forces began conducting joint naval patrols in the South China Sea last month and will immediately start air operations over the area, United States Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said during a visit here on Thursday.

The naval patrols were agreed on during a meeting in Washington in January between the defense departments of the two countries. The air operations will include aircraft and pilots currently participating in joint military exercises by the two countries in the Philippines.

The United States will position 200 pilots and crew members, as well as six aircraft and three helicopters, at the former Clark Air Base, north of Manila, part of which is now a Philippine Air Force facility.

The aircraft will include five Warthog ground-attack planes, three search-and-rescue helicopters and a plane often used to transport Special Operations forces.

The initial air contingent will "conduct flight operations in the area, including the South China Sea, and lay the foundation for joint air patrols to complement ongoing maritime patrols," Mr. Carter said.

The United States will also establish a command-and-control center in the Philippines to coordinate the joint operations, he said.

In January, the Philippine Supreme Court approved a sweeping 10-year military cooperation agreement with the United States, allowing it to build military facilities and to station personnel, planes and ships on existing Philippine military bases.

In March, the two countries identified five areas, including four air facilities and the country's largest army base, for use by the United States military. When Mr. Carter arrived in the Philippines on Wednesday, he said that more Philippine bases would open to the American military in the future.

Mr. Carter said on Thursday that the joint air and sea patrols were a response to concerns by the Philippines and other countries about China's increasing assertiveness in the region. China claims most of the South China Sea as its territory and has built artificial islands in areas that the Philippines and other countries have long considered their own.

"In the South China Sea, China's actions — in particular — are causing anxiety and raising regional tensions," Mr. Carter said during a visit to the Philippine presidential palace.

"Countries across the Asia-Pacific are voicing concern with China's land reclamation, which stands out in size and scope, as well as its militarization in the South China Sea," he said.

[Source: By Floyd Whaley, The New York Times, Manila, 14Apr16]

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East China Sea Conflict
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