US

US, Philippines start combat drills amid China's massive land reclamations in disputed sea

  • Co-chairs of the joint U.S.-Philippines "Balikatan 2015" military exercise Philippine Navy Vice-Admiral Alexander Lopez, left, and U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Christopher Mahoney, center, unfurl the Balikatan flag during the exercise's opening ceremony Monday, April 20, 2015 at Camp Aguinaldo at suburban Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines. More than ten thousand troops from both countries' militaries are taking part in the annual military drill that focuses on regional security, terrorism, disaster preparedness and inter-operability. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

    Co-chairs of the joint U.S.-Philippines "Balikatan 2015" military exercise Philippine Navy Vice-Admiral Alexander Lopez, left, and U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Christopher Mahoney, center, unfurl the Balikatan flag during the exercise's opening ceremony Monday, April 20, 2015 at Camp Aguinaldo at suburban Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines. More than ten thousand troops from both countries' militaries are taking part in the annual military drill that focuses on regional security, terrorism, disaster preparedness and inter-operability. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)  (The Associated Press)

  • Filipino activists hold slogans during a rally in front of the U.S. embassy in Manila, Philippines on Monday, April 20, 2015. The group is protesting against a joint U.S.-Philippines military exercise dubbed "Balikatan 2015" where troops from both countries take part in an annual drill that focuses on regional security, terrorism, disaster preparedness and inter-operability. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

    Filipino activists hold slogans during a rally in front of the U.S. embassy in Manila, Philippines on Monday, April 20, 2015. The group is protesting against a joint U.S.-Philippines military exercise dubbed "Balikatan 2015" where troops from both countries take part in an annual drill that focuses on regional security, terrorism, disaster preparedness and inter-operability. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)  (The Associated Press)

  • Filipino activists shout slogans during a rally in front of the U.S. embassy in Manila, Philippines on Monday, April 20, 2015. The group is protesting against a joint U.S.-Philippines military exercise dubbed "Balikatan 2015" where troops from both countries take part in an annual drill that focuses on regional security, terrorism, disaster preparedness and inter-operability. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

    Filipino activists shout slogans during a rally in front of the U.S. embassy in Manila, Philippines on Monday, April 20, 2015. The group is protesting against a joint U.S.-Philippines military exercise dubbed "Balikatan 2015" where troops from both countries take part in an annual drill that focuses on regional security, terrorism, disaster preparedness and inter-operability. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)  (The Associated Press)

More than 11,500 American and Filipino military personnel have started one of their largest annual exercises for combat readiness amid growing alarm over China's massive land reclamations in disputed South China Sea territories.

Philippine military officials said Monday that the "Balikatan," or shoulder-to-shoulder, maneuvers were not directed at China. But the venue of some of the war games in waters facing the disputed region and a focus on territorial defense appear to link the exercises to the long-simmering conflict.

Shortly before overseeing the start of the military exercises, Philippine military chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. held a separate news conference to show surveillance photos of Chinese reclamations in eight previously submerged reefs in the disputed Spratly Islands, saying Beijing's actions increase the risk of an accidental confrontation.