VERA FILES FACT CHECK: US, PH soldiers DID NOT expel Chinese ships from South China Sea


A video on Facebook (FB) is claiming that thousands of American and Filipino soldiers were sent to the South China Sea to drive out Chinese ships in the area. 

This is false. The troops being referred to are participating in the 38th iteration of the Balikatan Exercises off the coast of Zambales. No Chinese boats were driven out. 

On April 12, an FB page published the video that bore the headline:

“US AT PILIPINAS, NAGPADALA NG 17,680 NA SUNDALO SA SOUTH CHINA SEA! MGA CHINESE BOATS NAPAALIS NA (U.S. and the Philippines sent 17,680 soldiers to the South China Sea! Chinese boats driven out)!”

The annual Balikatan Exercises between the Philippines and the United States will, among others, allow the participating troopers to refine tactics, techniques and procedures to boost maritime security. They do not involve actual firefights with other countries.

At around the 6:40-mark of the eight-minute video, the narrator also claimed that China has sent 77 warplanes in response to the Philippines’ revitalized efforts in defending its territory. This is also incorrect.

China sent 70 warplanes near the borders of Taiwan for a drill that was conducted in response to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with Kevin McCarthy, U.S. speaker of the House of Representatives.

About 12,200 members of the U.S. military and 5,400 from the Armed Forces of the Philippines are taking part in this year’s Balikatan that started on April 11 and will end on April 28.

Some drills, which will focus more on maritime and coastal defense, will be conducted in Zambales within the waters of the West Philippine Sea, not South China Sea. (Read VERA FILES FACT CHECK: FB video MISLEADINGLY claims US, PH will sink Chinese ship)

The South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea are two bodies of water that cover different territories. They are not interchangeable with one another. (Read VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Six misconceptions about the Philippines’ arbitral award on the South China Sea)

FB page Mr. Pantas (created on Jan. 26, 2021) published the incorrect video, garnering over 40,000 reactions, 2,000 comments, 3,200 shares and 905,000 views.

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(Editor’s Note: VERA Files has partnered with Facebook to fight the spread of disinformation. Find out more about this partnership and our methodology.)