LThe United States and the Philippines on Thursday unveiled an agreement that gives American soldiers access to four more bases in the Southeast Asian country, which, like its longtime ally, is seeking to counter the growing military might of China.
Washington and Manila agreed to expand an existing agreement to include four new sites “in strategic regions of the country,” during a visit to the Philippines by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
“The Philippines and the United States are proud to announce their plans to accelerate the full implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the decision to designate four new agreed sites in strategic regions of the country,” US and Philippine officials said in a press release. joint statement.
Talks were underway about a possible fifth base, a senior Philippine official told AFP earlier.
The two countries have been security allies for several decades, including through a 2014 defense treaty and pact, known by the acronym EDCA, which gives US soldiers access to five Philippine bases, but also to store military equipment and materials there.
With this new announcement, the US gains access to at least nine military bases in the Philippines.
The US is seeking to strengthen its ties with Manila, which have been strained in recent years. Former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had preferred to turn to China to the detriment of Washington, a former colonizer of the Philippines, but the new government of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. wanted to reverse this.
Beijing’s reassertion of claims to Taiwan and the construction of Chinese bases in the South China Sea have pressured Washington and Manila to strengthen their partnership.
Given Taiwan’s proximity, Philippine cooperation will be key in the event of a conflict with Beijing. A four-star US Air Force general recently predicted that such a clash could occur as early as 2025.
The new locations that Washington will be able to access have not been identified. However, according to many sources, most of these new bases are located on the main island of the archipelago, Luzon, the Philippine region closest to Taiwan, where the US already has access to two sites.
According to reports, one of the additional bases is on the island of Palawan (west) – where Washington already has an accessible site – which faces the Spratly Islands, located in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
During a meeting with President Marcos at the Presidential Palace, the head of the Pentagon called Manila a “key” ally of the United States.
Austin said Washington will continue to help “strengthen and modernize” the Philippines’ military assets and increase cooperation between the two armies.
Washington is seeking to consolidate its alliances with other states to counter China’s rapid military advances, particularly through its “AUKUS” alliance with Australia and the United Kingdom.
Australia has agreed to increase its military exchanges with the United States, and Japan is planning joint exercises with the two countries.
President Marcos seeks to maintain a balance between Beijing and Washington, but has still insisted that he will not allow Beijing to encroach on Manila’s maritime rights.
A senior US defense official told reporters on Wednesday that the Philippines is under “daily pressure from (China) in ways that violate international law.”
The United States wants to make sure “it has the means to defend its own sovereignty,” the official said.
About 500 US troops are currently in the Philippines, with more moving within the country on joint exercises throughout the year.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea, defying a ruling in The Hague that its claims have no legal basis.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also claim parts of these waters.
Beijing also sees the democratic island of Taiwan as part of its territory, one day to be retaken, if necessary by force.
“Looking at the location of the proposed sites, it seems pretty clear that these sites are related to (a possible incident) in Taiwan,” said Greg Wyatt of PSA Philippines Consultancy.
02/02/2023 06:55:35 – Manila (AFP) – © 2023 AFP