BATAAN PROVINCE, Philippines: Swiftly maneuvering boats, manned by soldiers clad in gray camouflage uniforms and face masks, race towards a Philippine ship. They swiftly board the vessel, scanning the deck with their rifles poised for action.
Within moments, the ship's crew is captured and led away with hands held high, marking the conclusion of a simulated counter-terrorism operation in the South China Sea. This joint exercise involves the coast guards of the Philippines, the United States, and Japan.
The three-nation coast guard maneuver aims to expand cooperation and preparedness amidst growing concerns over China's maritime activities in the region. The drill specifically focused on a mock interception of a vessel carrying weapons of mass destruction. Philippine coast guard personnel faced armed resistance during the boarding and were tasked with swiftly regaining control of the situation.
"The exercises we undertake are designed to help each other prepare for any potential future challenges," stated John Ybanez, spokesperson for the Philippine coast guard, as quoted by Reuters.
"We receive valuable assets and training from our partners, and they want to assess our progress and capabilities."
Taking place in the waters off Bataan province, the exercises involve over 500 coast guard personnel and encompass various scenarios, including search and rescue operations and counter-piracy measures.
Japan and the United States have consistently expressed concerns over China's militarization efforts and have sought to strengthen ties with the Philippines since the assumption of Ferdinand Marcos Jr as president last year, following his pro-China predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.