The Philippines said on Friday it hopes to complete a new defense accord with the US ahead of a visit by US President Barack Obama this month, as a territorial dispute with China simmers.
The head Philippine negotiator, Philippine Undersecretary of Defense Pio Lorenzo Batino, said in a statement that the latest round of discussions about an increased US military presence in the country was “very productive.”
“This round brought us much closer to finding full consensus and the draft provisions on key points of an enhanced defense cooperation will be submitted to the president for his review,” Batino said.
Philippine negotiators on Friday said the eighth round of talks on a proposed military agreement had seen both sides “finding consensus on key points of a draft.”
The agreement proposes allowing more US troops, aircraft and ships to pass through the Philippines, as well as storing equipment in this country that could help mobilize US forces faster — particularly in the case of natural disasters.
The accord would provide “critical and timely support to the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines [and the] achievement of the country’s minimum credible defense posture,” Batino’s statement said.
The deal would not allow the US military to “establish a permanent military presence or base” or bring nuclear weapons into the country, in line with the Philippine constitution.
The proposed agreement could be signed before Obama visits the Philippines this month, a spokesman said.
“We aim to conclude the negotiations before the Obama visit,” Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said.
Washington has said Obama is to visit the Philippines at the end of this month as part of a four-nation tour of East Asia.
China claims almost all of the strategically important body of water, even up to the coasts of its neighbors.
Last month, Chinese ships blocked Philippine vessels that were bringing supplies to a Philippine military outpost, and in January Chinese ships used water cannon on Philippine fishermen near a disputed shoal.
The Philippines has responded by filing a case with a UN tribunal to challenge China’s territorial claim.