Balikatan is the name for the annual military exercises between the Philippines and the United States. It is a Tagalog word meaning “shoulder-to-shoulder”.
The “Balikatan” military exercises May 8-19 include a disaster drill off Aurora province on the Pacific Ocean side of the main Philippine island, Luzon. They have kept clear of disputed tracts in the South China Sea.
The exercises off the Philippine’s Pacific coast signal support for China while giving a new nod to the United States as well as pro-American elements of the public.
Benham Rise, a 13-million-hectare undersea plateau believed to be rich in fossil fuels, was awarded to Manila in 2012 by the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. But Chinese vessels were spotted exploring it last year. China does not officially claim the plateau.
The United States colonized the Philippines for about 50 years through World War II and has given it military support since then.
Australian armed forces have participated in Balikatan exercises annually since 2014. Australia has a visiting forces agreement, a type of a status of forces agreement, with the Philippines called Philippines–Australia Status of Visiting Forces Agreement.
As Balikatan 2017 has got special attention due to the fact that the exercise has been “scaled down” and refocused on fields like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) and counterterrorism, with usually more visible live-fire components downplayed.