Manila, Sept 2 (AP) The Philippine military said Friday its joint defense and security activities with U.S. forces, including annual combat exercises, will increase next year in a show of the treaty allies’ continuing robust relations. Also Read - COVID-19: Vietnam Halts Visa-free Travel For Britain, 7 European Union Countries

Top US and Philippine military officials agreed to increase the number of joint security activities next year to 281 in areas that include counterterrorism, maritime security and humanitarian aid. Also Read - Youths in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City Donate Blood for Coronavirus Patients, Win Praise

There are 261 such joint activities this year, military spokesman Col. Noel Detoyato said. Also Read - Over 13 Killed, Six Others Missing as Typhoon Phanfone Hits Philippines

Philippine military chief Gen Carlito Galvez and Adm. Philip Davidson, the US Indo-Pacific commander, led an annual meeting of the allied forces at the military headquarters in metropolitan Manila on Thursday.

President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to end many of the military’s combat drills with the U.S. military and the presence of American troops in the southern Philippines when he took office in 2016, while working to revive strained ties with China.

Duterte said he wanted joint combat drills with the U.S. stopped because they may offend China, where he has sought infrastructure funds and trade and investment.

The US military presence in the south and joint drills, however, have continued. About 150 to 200 American troops are providing non-combat assistance to Filipino troops battling Muslim militants.

China has expressed concern in the past over joint military exercises near the South China Sea, where it’s been locked in territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan for decades.

“It’s a bilateral issue between the Philippines and US,” Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said in Manila when asked to comment on the increased Philippine-US military activities. AP NSA NSA

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.