Metro Manila, Philippines — China’s Ministry of National Defense (MOD) has accused the Philippines of enlisting foreign forces to patrol the South China Sea and stirring up trouble in the region.

“Since November 21, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command Navy ship Yuncheng has conducted routine patrols in the South China Sea,” the MOD said in a statement issued Thursday. “During this period, the Philippines enlisted foreign forces to patrol the South China Sea, stir up trouble, and hype up regional peace and stability, violating the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.”

“The theater troops maintain a high degree of vigilance, resolutely defend national sovereignty, security and maritime rights and interests, and resolutely safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea,” it added

From Nov. 21 to 23, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United States Indo-Pacific Command began a series of tactical exercises as part of a three-day long maritime cooperative activity (MCA) in the waters off Batanes and in the West Philippine Sea, all within Manila’s 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The exercises were aimed at enhancing interoperability and fostering cooperation between the Philippines and the US.

The AFP said the MCA was within the framework of the Mutual Defense Treaty, promoted rules-based international order, and demonstrated the two countries’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

China has accused the US of increasing tensions in the region after Manila and Washington further bolstered their defense alliances this year, through the expansion of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) forming new American troop bases in the Philippines, and through continued joint patrols in Philippine waters.

These developments come amid China’s continued harassment of Filipino ships and incursions in the West Philippine Sea. Since 2021, Beijing has escalated its aggression against Manila, through its use of military-grade lasers, water cannons, and even dangerous maneuvers resulting in collisions with civilian and government vessels.

In 2016, an arbitral tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) shut down China’s sweeping claims over most of the South China Sea, including the part Manila calls the West Philippine Sea. Beijing continues to defy this ruling.`