U.S. 5th Fleet leaders and Sailors salute during the U.S. national anthem at a decommissioning ceremony in Bahrain for USS Chinook (PC 9), March 28, 2023. The event marked the end of the patrol craft’s 28 years of U.S. naval service. — MASS COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST 2ND CLASS JACOB VERNIER

THE US Navy on Tuesday said it would transfer two Cyclone-class patrol ships stationed in Bahrain to the Philippines, amid China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea.

USS Monsoon and USS Chinook, which it used for almost three decades, were decommissioned on March 28, the US Naval Forces Central Command said in a statement posted on its website.

Monsoon and Chinook are slated for transfer to the Philippine Navy,” it said, noting that officials from the Philippines had attended the decommissioning ceremony.

Monsoon was initially commissioned by the US Navy in 1994 and was recommissioned in 2008 after it served four years in the US Coast Guard, according to the statement. Chinook was commissioned in 1995.

“Monsoon and Chinook are the last of a group of 10 ships designed for shallow-water operations that were stationed in Bahrain,” the US Navy said.

It was not clear in the US Navy statement whether the two ships had been donated to the Philippines, but Naval News said in a report the ships “are likely being transferred via excess defense articles, most likely from a 2021 offer.”

Excess defense articles are articles owned by the US Department of Defense and US Coast Guard that are no longer needed and declared excess by the US Armed Forces, according to a website post by the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security.

“This excess equipment may be offered at reduced or no cost to eligible foreign recipients on an ‘as is, where is’ basis in support of US national security and foreign policy objectives,” it said.

“I’m also proud that we are turning over great ships to our Philippine partners,” Anthony Webber, commander of Task Force 55, which oversees operations for the US 5th Fleet’s surface forces, said in the statement.

China last week accused the US of worsening tensions by boosting military deployment in the Asia-Pacific region.

Countries in the region should remain vigilant and avoid being coerced or used by the US, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a news briefing in Beijing, based on a transcript posted on the agency’s website on March 22.

He also reiterated his opposition to a decision by Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to increase US access to military bases in the Southeast Asian nation under their 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

Mr. Wang said physical consultations between the Foreign ministries of China and the Philippines would let both sides have an “in-depth communication on properly handling maritime disputes and advancing practical maritime cooperation.

Last month, the Philippine government said it would allow the US to access four more military bases. Projects at five existing EDCA sites were almost finished, it added. Under the 2014 pact, Philippine military bases may be used for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and building facilities such as runways, fuel storage and military housing.

Philippine and Chinese envoys met in Manila on March 23 for their seventh Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea, their first since a global coronavirus pandemic started in 2020.

The South China Sea, a key global shipping route, is subject to overlapping territorial claims involving China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Each year, trillions of dollars of trade flow through the sea, which is also rich in fish and gas.

More than 40 Chinese boats were still roaming near Thitu Island in the South China Sea, the Philippine Coast Guard said weeks after it accused its Chinese counterpart of endangering the crew of a resupply ship in an incident that has stoked long-running diplomatic tensions over China’s expansive claims in the waterway.

Mr. Marcos has asked the Philippine Army to boost relations with its foreign counterparts, highlighting the importance of international ties amid increasing Chinese assertiveness in Philippine-claimed areas in the South China Sea.

Local foreign policy think tanks and experts have been urging the Philippine government to partner with as many countries as possible to deter China’s expansive activities at sea.

The Philippines and Bahrain are members of a top naval partnership in the world called Combined Maritime Forces, according to the US Navy.

Forces from the US-led organization’s 38 members operate across 3.2 million square miles (5.1 million square kilometers) of international water space in the Middle East, it said. “The partnership ensures maritime security and stability in some of the world’s most important shipping lanes.”

The Philippines has been eyeing several security partnerships with other countries, including a tripartite security pact with Japan and the US.

The Southeast Asian nation was also in talks to include Australia and Japan in its planned joint South China Sea patrols with the US. – Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza