The US has asked for access to Philippine military bases in eight locations to rotate troops, aircraft and ships as Washington shifts its forces to Asia and China expands its military presence in the South China Sea.
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, in a speech in Arizona, has outlined Washington’s next phase in its Asia “pivot,” deploying its most sophisticated destroyers, bombers and fighters to the region.
The Asia “pivot” has already seen US Marines rotating through the Australian tropical city of Darwin, the country’s closest city to Asia, for training.
At least eight locations in the Philippines have been identified as possible sites where US troops, planes and ships will be rotated through a series of military training exercises, Philippine General Gregorio Catapang, military chief, told local television network ABS-CBN.
However, the Americans will have to wait until after the Philippine’s Supreme Court makes its rulings on the constitutionality of the military deal, called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed last year between Manila and Washington. It might decide later this year.
“If we formalize [now] and they start putting up structures and it’s not constitutional, they will have to destroy those structures,” Catapang said late on Friday, adding the list was finalized in October last year during a Mutual Defense Board meeting.
Four of the locations are on the main island of Luzon, where US and Filipino soldiers usually hold exercises, two on the central Cebu island, and two more on the western island of Palawan, near the disputed Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島).
China claims most of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, disputed in parts with Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, and denies accusations its actions in its own territory are provocative.
Recent satellite images suggest China has made rapid progress in building an airstrip suitable for military use in contested territory in the Spratly Islands, which drew concern from the US and its allies in Asia.
“Once the US rebalance to Asia policy is in full swing, the Philippines expect the Americans to seek more access to military bases on Mindanao island and civilian airstrips on Luzon,” said a senior air force official familiar with the arrangements.
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