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US, Philippines Engage in Joint Military Exercises

From left to right, U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, Philippines Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana, Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Ariel Abadilla, stand at attention during the entry of colors at the opening ceremony for this year's joint Philippines-U.S. military exercise dubbed "Balikatan 2017", May 8, 2017.

The U.S. and the Philippines Monday began a downsized version of their annual joint military exercises, as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has stated he is looking to strengthen ties with China and Russia.

This year's maneuvers in the Philippines will focus on disaster response and battling counter-terrorism.

Territorial defense operations will be excluded this year. China has claimed almost all of the South China Sea territory, even though several other nations, including the Philippines, have also staked claims to the region. Duterte has taken a softer stance than his predecessor on the territorial disputes with China.

Far fewer soldiers on both sides are participating in the joint exercises compared to last year when about 11,500 soldiers took part in the joint venture. Authorities say about 5,400 solders are participating this year.