Philippines downplays China naval drills

MANILA, June 18, 2011 (AFP) - The Philippine military on Saturday sought to downplay the significance of recent Chinese naval exercises in the South China Sea, amid mounting tensions over territorial disputes in the area.

The Philippine Navy itself would conduct 11 days of joint exercises with its US counterpart from June 28, Philippine armed forces spokesman Commodore Miguel Jose Rodriguez noted, citing a previously announced drill.

"It's normal for navies to conduct drills. The Philippine Navy does them all the time," Rodriguez added.

"We hope someday we can exercise with the Chinese navy."

Chinese state media reported on Friday that China had recently staged three days of military exercises in the South China Sea and planned to boost its offshore maritime patrol force.

The Philippines has competing claims with China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei over potentially resource-rich areas in the South China Sea.

The Philippines said Friday it would send its ageing navy flagship into disputed South China Sea waters.

Tensions in the long-running dispute over the area have flared in recent months amid allegations by the Philippines and Vietnam that China has become increasingly aggressive in staking its territorial claims.

The Philippines accused China this month of sending naval vessels to intimidate rival claimants around the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Manila also accused China of installing posts and a buoy in nearby areas, opening fire on Filipino fishermen and intimidating a Philippine oil exploration ship with a patrol vessel.

China has maintained throughout the flare-up that its has sole sovereignty over the waters, but that it intends to resolve the dispute peacefully.

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