US Marines storm beach near disputed reef in South China Sea joint military drills

US Marines stormed a beach from the South China Sea on Friday in joint military exercises organized with troops from South Korea, Japan and the Philippines.

The exercises took place on an uninhabited beach in the Philippines’ Zambales province, about 150 miles east of the Scarborough Shoal, a rocky outcrop on the Manila coast.

U.S. and South Korean Marines take positions after disembarking from a U.S. Navy Landing Ship during a joint amphibious landing exercise with their Filipino counterparts on a beach overlooking the South China Sea in the city of San Antonio, Zambales province , October 7, 2022.

U.S. and South Korean Marines take positions after disembarking from a U.S. Navy Landing Ship during a joint amphibious landing exercise with their Filipino counterparts on a beach overlooking the South China Sea in the city of San Antonio, Zambales province , October 7, 2022.
(Ted Aljibe/AFP via Getty Images)

The rocky reef made headlines in 2012 when China conquered the area. It has claimed it for itself ever since, and its fishermen and Coast Guard have maintained a dominant presence.

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The KAMANDAG exercises – the Filipino acronym for “cooperation of warriors of the sea” – began on Monday and will involve around 3,500 troops by Oct. 14, the Daily Mail reported on Friday.

Images showed US forces conducting joint amphibious landing exercises with soldiers from South Korea, Japan and the Philippines.

South Korean and U.S. Marines take position during a joint amphibious landing exercise with their Filipino counterparts on a beach overlooking the South China Sea in the city of San Antonio, Zambales province, Oct.

South Korean and U.S. Marines take position during a joint amphibious landing exercise with their Filipino counterparts on a beach overlooking the South China Sea in the city of San Antonio, Zambales province, Oct.
(Ted Aljibe/AFP via Getty Images)

Demonstrations of landing craft, weapons and chemical warfare agent detectors were featured in images depicting the exercises.

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The joint drills are the first of their kind under Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, who reversed Manila’s stance on the US previously held by the Rodrigo Duterte government.

Duterte canceled US exercises and turned to a more China-centric geopolitical focus.

South Korean (foreground) and U.S. Marines participate in a joint amphibious landing exercise with their Filipino counterparts on a beach overlooking the South China Sea in the city of San Antonio, Zambales province, Oct.

South Korean (foreground) and U.S. Marines participate in a joint amphibious landing exercise with their Filipino counterparts on a beach overlooking the South China Sea in the city of San Antonio, Zambales province, Oct.
(Ted Aljibe/AFP via Getty Images)

But last month in New York, Marcos told President Biden he appreciated the US’s role in “keeping the peace in our region.”

The joint drills come as tensions rise in East Asia and North Korea steps up ballistic missile testing as strained relations between the West and China remain.

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Philippine amphibious assault vehicles taxi on a beach overlooking the South China Sea in the city of San Antonio, Zambales province, during a joint amphibious landing exercise with U.S. Marines, Oct.

Philippine amphibious assault vehicles taxi on a beach overlooking the South China Sea in the city of San Antonio, Zambales province, during a joint amphibious landing exercise with U.S. Marines, Oct.
(Ted Aljibe/AFP via Getty Images)

China’s recent aggression around Taiwan has occupied Western officials for months, particularly after a visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei that led to a sharp increase in hostilities around the island.

Beijing has further frustrated regional South China Sea nations like the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, which have challenged China’s overt attempts to seize dominance of international waters.

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