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‘US imposed media ban on Balikatan to avoid riling China’

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By Redempto D. Anda
Inquirer Southern Luzon
12:37 am | Sunday, April 29th, 2012

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—The American side in the just-concluded Balikatan 2012 joint military exercise changed rules unilaterally and imposed a media blackout on major live-fire exercises between the Philippines and United States military.

Live fire exercises were held at Crow Valley in Tarlac and at El Nido in Palawan.

The United States, according to a Philippine military source, made “several changes in the program of activities” apparently to avoid irritating China amid the standoff in the Scarborough Shoal that started on April 10.

“They made many changes to the plans and disallowed media coverage for Crow Valley and El Nido,” said the source, who asked not to be identified for lack of authority to speak on the matter.

The Crow Valley maneuvers, held on April 26, involved live-fire air and ground maneuvers and should have been open to media coverage as in past exercises, while the oil-rig takeover drill, which took place on April 20, was the first time such a scenario was introduced, a scenario which anticipated a counterattack on an oil facility taken over by hostile forces in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“When the Scarborough standoff happened, they (US Forces) suddenly became very cautious about how media was going to play up those stories.

“Ingat na ingat sila (They were very careful) and they wanted to forgo some of the activities,” the source said.

Western Command spokesperson Maj. Neil Estrella, contacted by phone Saturday, was asked if the El Nido oil-rig takeover exercise was supposed to be open to media coverage. He said the decision to make it off limits was “reached by both sides.”

“There were several considerations why it was not made open to the media. One was safety,” Estrella said.

The source, however, insisted that it was the American side that decided “unilaterally” that the media could not cover the oil-rig event.

“It was obvious the Americans did not want the military maneuvers to hog the limelight as the Philippines and China were in a standoff at Scarborough,” the source said.

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China top military paper warns of armed confrontation over seas

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By Chris Buckley
BEIJING | Sat Apr 21, 2012 2:21am EDT

(Reuters) – China‘s top military newspaper warned the United States on Saturday that U.S.-Philippine military exercises have fanned risks of armed confrontation over the disputed South China Sea.

The commentary in China’s Liberation Army Daily falls short of a formal government statement, but marks the harshest high-level warning yet from Beijing about tensions with the Philippines over disputed seas where both countries have recently sent ships to assert their claims.

This week American and Filipino troops launched a fortnight of annual naval drills amid the stand-off between Beijing and Manila, who have accused each other of encroaching on sovereign seas near the Scarborough Shoal, west of a former U.S. navy base at Subic Bay.

The joint exercises are held in different seas around the Philippines; the leg that takes place in the South China Sea area starts on Monday.

“Anyone with clear eyes saw long ago that behind these drills is reflected a mentality that will lead the South China Sea issue down a fork in the road towards military confrontation and resolution through armed force,” said the commentary in the Chinese paper, which is the chief mouthpiece of the People’s Liberation Army.

“Through this kind of meddling and intervention, the United States will only stir up the entire South China Sea situation towards increasing chaos, and this will inevitably have a massive impact on regional peace and stability.”

Up to now, China has chided the Philippines over the dispute about the uninhabited shoal known in the Philippines as the Panatag Shoal and which China calls Huangyan, about 124 nautical miles off the main Philippine island of Luzon.

China has territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan in the South China Sea, which could be rich in oil and gas and is spanned by busy shipping lanes.

REGIONAL TENSIONS

Beijing has sought to resolve the disputes one-on-one but there is worry among its neighbors over what some see as growing Chinese assertiveness in staking claims over the seas and various islands, reefs and shoals.

In past patches of regional tension over disputed seas, hawkish Chinese military voices have also emerged, only to be later reined in by the government, and the same could be true this time.

Since late 2010, China has sought to cool tensions with the United States over regional disputes, trade and currency policies, human rights and other contentious issues. Especially with the ruling Chinese Party preoccupied with a leadership succession late in 2012, Beijing has stressed its hopes for steady relations throughout this year.

Nonetheless, experts have said that China remains wary of U.S. military intentions across the Asia-Pacific, especially in the wake of the Obama administration’s vows to “pivot” to the region, reinvigorating diplomatic and security ties with allies.

The Liberation Army Daily commentary echoed that wariness.

“The U.S. strategy of returning to the Asia-Pacific carries the implication of a shift in military focus, and there is no better strategic opening than China’s sovereignty disputes with the Philippines and other countries in the South China Sea,” said the newspaper.

“The United States’ intention of trying to draw more countries into stirring up the situation in the South China Sea is being brandished to the full,” it said.

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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