Author: Aaron Favila and Joeal Calupitan,for The Diplomat

Philippine officials say such joint exercises with U.S. forces do not target any country. But Beijing says increased U.S. security deployments in Asia target China and undermine regional stability.

U.S., Japanese, and Philippine coast guard ships staged law enforcement drills in waters near the disputed South China Sea on Tuesday as Washington presses efforts to reinforce alliances in Asia amid an increasingly tense rivalry with China.

Witnessed by journalists onboard a Philippine coast guard patrol boat, the BRP Cabra, the drills focused on a scenario involving the interdiction and boarding of a vessel suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction off the Bataan Peninsula, Philippine coast guard spokesperson Commodore Armand Balilo said.

Shots rang out as heavily armed coast guard personnel rapidly boarded the vessel from a speedboat and herded the crew members toward the stern. A helicopter hovered as U.S. and Japanese coast guard ships helped rescue crew members who jumped off the target vessel during the mock assault.

“We are not just all display,” Philippine coast guard deputy spokesperson John Ybanez said. “All these exercises that we do will help us help each other in possible scenarios in the future.”

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Aaron Favila and Joeal Calupitan

Aaron Favila and Joeal Calupitan reported for the Associated Press aboard the BRP Cabra, Philippines.

Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila contributed to this report.

Feature image:JCG PLH32 Akitsushima / via Wikimedia Commons