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Jakarta Post

Russia keen on joint exercises in South China Sea

  • Raul Dancel

    The Straits Times/ANN

Manila   /   Wed, January 4, 2017   /  10:46 am
Russia keen on joint exercises in South China Sea A woman walks past a billboard featuring an image of an island in South China Sea on display with Chinese words that read: "South China Sea, our beautiful motherland, we won't let go an inch" in Weifang in east China's Shandong province, July 14, 2016. (Chinatopix via AP/-)

Russia said it is looking into holding naval exercises in the South China Sea with the Philippines, China and Malaysia to fight terrorism and piracy, as a Russian warship arrived in Manila on a "goodwill visit".

"We really hope that in a few years, military exercises… in your region and the South China Sea will take a very big part for the participants, not only Russia and the Philippines, but also China and Malaysia," said Rear-Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, deputy commander of Russia's Pacific Fleet.

He was speaking at a news briefing in Manila on Tuesday after the anti-submarine destroyer Admiral Tributs docked in Manila.

It was escorted by Russian oil tanker Boris Butoma. The two ships will leave on Saturday.

Sidestepping questions on territorial disputes in the region, Rear- Adm Mikhailov said: "The main task is safety… The biggest problems now are terrorism and piracy. Our exercises with you will help fight these problems.

"We will show what we can do, and we will see what you can do and show us."

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been upending decades-long security arrangements with the US, which are bound by a mutual defense pact, since he took office last June. He has said he wants all American troops out of the Philippines in three years and also halted all US-Philippine war games in the South China Sea - but is willing to hold military exercises with China and Russia.

"I have given enough time for the Americans to play with the Filipino soldiers," he said last October, before going on a state visit to China, where he declared a "separation" with the US.

Last year, China and Russia conducted military maneuvers in the South China Sea involving a significant number of warships, submarines, aircraft, helicopters and armored equipment. A simulated invasion of South China Sea islands was part of the exercise.

China has laid claim to nearly all of the 3.2 million sq km sea, parts of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Duterte has taken a less hardline approach to the Chinese claim than his predecessor Benigno Aquino. With US lawmakers blocking arms deals and aid to the Philippines over opposition to the extrajudicial killings of thousands of drug suspects, the Philippine leader has turned to China and Russia for weapons instead.

On Tuesday, Rear-Adm Mikhailov said Russia is keen to show the Philippines the arms and technology it can acquire to bolster its military.

"We have a big range of equipment that we can demonstrate to you, maybe here, maybe in the future, in the sea, and in military exercises, and also in different exhibitions… We can help you in every way that you need," he said.

He said Russia wants to have arms deals with the Philippines on the scale it now has with Indonesia.

Indonesia's air force uses Russian-made Su-30 and Su-27 warplanes. Jakarta is in talks to procure 10 Su-355 multirole fighters.

The Philippines recently acquired a squadron of FA-50 jets from South Korea and a handful of Coast Guard cutter vessels from the US, but its military remains among Asia's most ill-equipped.

At the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Duterte is scheduled to visit Russia in April or May this year.

Russia has offered to sell a submarine, drones and sniper rifles to the Philippines, said Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

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This article appeared on The Straits Times newspaper website, which is a member of Asia News Network and a media partner of The Jakarta Post