The US says it shares a common interest with the Philippines in protecting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, but is not seeking to re-establish a military base on the territory of its Southeast Asian treaty ally.
Despite impending budget cuts, the US has signaled its intent to reinforce its presence in the Asia-Pacific, where there is some trepidation over China’s rising military capabilities. In recent months, it has announced plans to station troops in Australia and dock US Navy ships in Singapore. That has fueled speculation that the US could seek to re-establish the permanent military presence it had in the Philippines until the early 1990s.
As senior diplomats and defense officials from the Philippines and the US began two days of annual strategic talks in Washington on Thursday, both sides said the focus was on intensifying military cooperation in other ways, such as more joint exercises.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US was interested in increasing training and cooperation in areas including search and rescue, freedom of navigation, countering terror and countering piracy.
“The idea that we are looking to establish US bases or permanently station US forces in the Philippines, or anywhere else in Southeast Asia, as part of a China containment strategy is patently false,” US Department of Defense spokeswoman Commander Leslie Hull-Ryde said.
The Philippines has turned to Washington for military hardware after accusing Chinese ships last year of repeatedly intruding into areas it claims in the South China Sea’s disputed Spratly Islands and disrupting oil exploration in its territorial waters.
The US says it has a national interest in peaceful resolution of the territorial conflicts and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea — where Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also have claims.
“Certainly freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is something we share an interest in and something that we are interested in protecting together,” Nuland told a news conference.
Earlier, in Manila, Philippines Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that any additional joint military activity would conform with the 1999 agreement that allows US ship and aircraft to visit and resupply, and for joint military exercises in the Philippines.