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China joins US-Philippine Balikatan exercises for the first time

An American soldier frisks his Filipino counterpart during the Balikatan exercises. (AFP)
The online news portal of TV5

For the first time, China--which is locked in a territorial dispute with the Philippines regarding the West Philippine Sea--participated in joint military exercises being conducted between American and Filipino armed forces.

China was among the 11 countries that participated in this year's multi-national mid-level humanitarian assistance and disaster relief round table discussion on Monday held at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

The meeting was organized to allow countries to share their best practices, roles, and functions on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, Colonel Arnulfo Burgos Jr., spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said in a statement.

Aside from China, other countries that joined the roundtable discussions are security officials from Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Thailand, South Korea and Vietnam.

The discussions were led by AFP Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Brigadier General Aurelio Baladad and Captain Cathal O’Connor from the US Navy.

Colonel Romeo Brawner, from the office of J3 (Operations), AFP, said China's participation was a welcome development particularly in building confidence despite of the territorial dispute.

"We all know that when it comes to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief there is no such thing as differences because what we want to uphold here is the preservation of environment and also of lives of people so it doesn't matter what nation you [belong to]," Brawner said.

The roundtable discussion on disaster response was the first in the history of Balikatan that emerged due to the series of disasters that hit the country such as typhoon Pablo that ravaged Mindanao last year.

Other participants in the round-table discussion include representatives from the Senate of the Philippines, Department of National Defense, Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine National Police Maritime Group, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board, and the joint staff of the AFP.

The day-long activity features Disaster Relief Roles and Functions, and Case Study briefings from the representatives of the AFP Disaster Response Task Force, Philippine Navy, US, Japan, Australia, and Indonesia.

Eight thousand members of the Philippine and US armed forces are also conducting joint civil military operations projects and combined staff exercises and field training in Central Luzon.