The US and the Philippines yesterday announced an agreement to expand the US’ military presence in the Southeast Asian country, where forces would be granted access to four more Philippine military camps, effectively providing them new ground to ramp up deterrence against China’s increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea.
The agreement between the longtime treaty allies under a 2014 defense pact was made public during the visit of US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
The allied nations also said in a joint statement that “substantial” progress has been made in projects at five Philippine military camps, where US military personnel were earlier granted access by Philippine officials under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), adding that construction of US facilities has begun.
Austin briefly met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who has taken steps to nurture closer ties with Washington since taking office in June, and was to later meet with Philippine Secretary of National Defense Carlito Galvez Jr to discuss Washington’s plan to expand its military presence in the country.
“The EDCA is a key pillar of the US-Philippines alliance, which supports combined training, exercises and interoperability between our forces,” the joint statement said.
“The addition of these new EDCA locations will allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines, and respond to other shared challenges,” it said.
The location of the four camps where US forces are to construct barracks, warehouses and hangars was not disclosed, but Philippine military and defense officials n November last year said the US had sought access to camps in the northern Philippine region of Luzon.
Two additional camps where the US reportedly want access are near mainland Luzon’s northern tip, across a sea border from Taiwan, close to the Taiwan Strait and southern China.
Other local camps that are to reportedly host US forces lie along the country’s western coast, which faces the South China Sea.
China and the Philippines — along with Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam — have been locked in increasingly tense territorial disputes over the busy and resource-rich South China Sea.
Washington lays no claims in the strategic waters, but has deployed its warships and fighter aircraft for patrols that it has said promote freedom of navigation and the rule of law, but have been criticized by Beijing.
“The Philippine-US alliance has stood the test of time and remains ironclad,” the statement said. “We look forward to the opportunities these new sites will create to expand our cooperation together.”
The Philippines, Washington’s oldest treaty ally in Asia, used to host two of the largest US Navy and Air Force bases outside the US mainland. The bases were shut in the early 1990s after the Philippine Senate rejected an extension, but US forces returned for large-scale combat exercises with Philippine troops under a 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement and the EDCA.
The Philippine Constitution prohibits the permanent basing of foreign troops and their involvement in local combat. The EDCA defense pact allows visiting US forces to indefinitely stay in rotating batches within designated Philippine camps with defense equipment exlucing nuclear weapons.
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