MANILA (Reuters) - The United States and the Philippines will begin 11 days of maritime security exercises near disputed waters in the South China Sea next week, with the Philippines buoyed by a renewed U.S. pledge of support in boosting its military capabilities.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday vowed to support its old ally amid growing tension between China and its neighbors in disputed areas of the South China Sea.
Lieutenant Noel Cadigal of the Philippine navy said two U.S. guided missile destroyers and a salvage ship would join four Philippine gunboats for gunnery, patrol and interdiction drills off the southern tip of Palawan island.
"We will also hold anti-piracy and anti-smuggling exercises and test the interoperability and readiness of the two navies in responding to various scenarios, such as security, disaster and humanitarian assistance," Cadigal said.
Tension has risen sharply in the South China Sea, which the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea, in recent months on concern China is becoming more assertive in its claim to the disputed waters believed to be rich in oil and natural gas.
The Philippines says there have been nine intrusions by China since February in its territorial waters off Palawan.
It has said the location of the drills was chosen some time ago and is not related to the current tension.
Next week's drills, known as Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), are among dozens of military activities the two nations carry out annually under a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
Clinton said on Thursday the exercise starting on Tuesday was "one more example of our close relationship," brushing aside a Chinese warning for the United States to stay out of the dispute.
"I want to underscore our commitment to the Defense of the Philippines," Clinton said after meeting Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, adding Washington would honor both its mutual defense treaty and its long-standing strategic alliance with Manila.
Del Rosario was in Washington to seek U.S. help in enhancing Manila's ability to deal with security in the South China Sea, and a clarification of Washington's position on how it would respond to any problem in the sea.
(Reported by Manny Mogato; Editing by John Mair and Robert Birsel)