US military to gain expanded access to Philippines bases in efforts to counter China


The Philippines will grant the United States expanded access to its military bases, the two countries said Thursday, giving US forces a strategic foothold on the southeastern edge of the South China Sea near self-ruled Taiwan.

The newly announced deal will give the US access to four additional sites under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), allowing the US to rotate troops to a total of nine bases across the Philippines.

The US has stepped up efforts to expand its Indo-Pacific security options in recent months, amid growing concerns about China’s aggressive territorial posture across the region.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a visit to Manila on Thursday that the US and the Philippines remain committed to strengthening their joint capabilities to resist armed attack.

“This is just part of our efforts to modernize our alliance. And these efforts are especially important as the People’s Republic of China continues to assert its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea,” Austin said, referring to China’s increased presence in waters near the Philippines.

Austin did not specify the location of the bases to which the US military will gain new access.

Thursday’s announcement follows a flurry of high-profile US military agreements across the region, including plans to share defense technology with India and plans to deploy new US Marine units to Japanese islands. The US Marines also officially opened a new base on Guam, a strategically important US island east of the Philippines. Camp Blaz is the first new Marine base in 70 years and is expected to one day accommodate 5,000 Marines.

Greater access to military bases in the Philippines would put U.S. forces less than 200 miles south of Taiwan, a democratically-ruled island of 24 million people that the Chinese Communist Party claims is part of its sovereign territory even though it has never controlled it.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has refused to rule out the use of military force to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control, but the Biden administration is unwavering in its support for the island, as stipulated in the Taiwan Relations Act, under which Washington agrees to provide the island with resources. to defend itself without involving American troops.

In November, US Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines to meet with recently elected President Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jr. , reversing the trend under previous President Rodrigo Duterte.

Washington and Manila are bound by a mutual defense treaty signed in 1951 that remains in force, making the US the oldest bilateral treaty alliance in the region.

In addition to expanding EDCA, the US is helping the Philippines modernize its military and has included the Philippines as a pilot country in a maritime domain awareness initiative. The two countries also recently agreed to carry out more than 500 activities together throughout the year.

Earlier this month, the Philippines announced that 16,000 Filipino and US troops will participate in the annual Balikatan exercise, which is scheduled to take place from April 24 to 27.

The exercise will include “a live-fire exercise to test the newly acquired weapons system of the United States and the Philippines,” the state-run Philippine News Agency said.

Official US ties to the Philippines date back to 1898, when Madrid ceded control of its colony of the Philippines to the United States as part of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War.

The Philippines remained a US territory until July 4, 1946, when Washington granted it independence – but the US military presence remained in the archipelago nation.

The country was once home to the US military’s two largest overseas installations, Clark Air Force Base and Subic Bay Naval Station, which supported the US war effort in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Both bases were transferred to Philippine control in the 1990s after the 1947 Military Bases Agreement between Washington and Manila expired.


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