Troops from the Philippines and the US launched a naval exercise Monday in a bid to strengthen the countries’ military partnership.

Local media in the Philippines are reporting that around 2,200 US soldiers and 1,600 Filipino troops will participate in this year’s Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHILBEX), to be held near Subic Bay, about 150 nautical miles from the Scarborough Shoal – a territory claimed by China.

The military drills include a simulated helicopter raid, an aircraft display and live fire exercises. The exercises will also focus on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and civic action projects, officials said.

“We see through this exercise that the spirit of the Philippines’ and the United States’ partnership is getting stronger,” Philippine Navy Chief Vice Admiral Alexander Pama said during the opening ceremony. “I am confident that they shall result in a partnership that is enduring, as well as we shall be prepared to jointly face the present and emerging maritime challenges in this part of the region,” Pama said.

Pama denied that the exercises is a “show of force” amid territorial disputes with China. The Philippines and the United States entered into a Mutual Defense Treaty which provides military support in case of armed attack on either party.

“The Republic of the Philippines is a longstanding treaty ally of the United States. Today, our nations stand together in a partnership to make the Pacific region more secure and prosperous,” US Deputy Chief of Mission Brian Goldbeck said.