China's defence ministry condemns US missile deployment in Philippines

FILE PHOTO: Philippines and U.S. troops participate in joint live fire exercises

By Laurie Chen and Mikhail Flores

BEIJING/MANILA (Reuters) -China's defence ministry on Thursday strongly condemned the deployment of a U.S. intermediate range missile system in the northern Philippines during military drills in April, saying it "brought huge risks of war into the region".

Defence Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian told a press briefing in Beijing that China remained highly vigilant and opposed the deployment, the first in the Indo-Pacific region.

"The United States and Philippine practices put the entire region under the fire of the United States (and) brought huge risks of war into the region," Wu said, adding it "seriously undermined" regional peace.

"Intermediate-range missiles are strategic and offensive weapons with a strong Cold War colour," Wu said.

China deploys its own advanced intermediate-range missiles as part of an extensive conventional ballistic missile arsenal.

The U.S. said last month it had deployed its Typhon missile system to the Philippines as part of their Balikatan or "shoulder-to-shoulder" military drills.

Philippine military official Col. Michael Logico said in April that the missile system, which can fire Tomahawk land attack and SM-6 missiles, was brought to Laoag city in Ilocos Norte province in the northern Philippines.

The Philippines and U.S. military did not fire the missile system during the exercises, but Logico said it was shipped to test the feasibility of transporting the 40-ton weapon system by air.

Logico confirmed on Friday the missile system remains in the Philippines, but did not say where it is deployed and for how long it will stay in the country.

The annual drills this year involved around 16,000 Filipinos and U.S. soldiers, some of which were staged in northern Philippine islands near Taiwan and in western waters facing the South China Sea, where China is in dispute with the Philippines and other regional claimants.

The exercises irked China at the time and it warned of destabilisation when countries outside the region "flex muscles and stoke confrontation".

Philippine and U.S. officials had said the exercises were meant to improve interoperability between their forces and were not directed at any third country.

(Reporting by Laurie Chen in Beijing and Karen Lema and Mikhail Flores in Manila; Writing by Greg Torode; Editing by David Holmes)