The two countries said Thursday that the Philippines will give the United States expanded access to its military bases, providing American forces with a larger strategic base on the southeastern edge of the South China Sea near self-ruled Taiwan.
The newly announced deal will give the United States access to four more sites under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) dating back to 2014, allowing the United States to rotate forces to a total of nine bases across the Philippines.
The United States has stepped up efforts to expand its security options in the Indo-Pacific in recent months, amid growing concerns about China’s aggressive regional stance across the region.
Speaking during a visit to Manila on Thursday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the US and the Philippines remain committed to enhancing their mutual capabilities to resist armed attack.
This is just part of our effort to modernize our alliance. These efforts are particularly important as the People’s Republic of China continues to stake its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea, Austin said, referring to China’s growing presence in waters near the Philippines.
Austin did not say the location of the bases to which the US military will get new access.
China warned of an escalation of tensions in the region after the move. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said Thursday that the Philippines allowing the United States access to four defensive positions on its territory “escalated tension in the region and endangered regional peace and stability.”
Out of its own selfish agenda, the American side stuck to the Cold War. Mao said regional countries should remain vigilant about this and avoid being used by the United States.
Thursday’s announcement follows a series of high-profile US military agreements across the region, including plans to share defense technologies with India, and plans to deploy new US naval units to the Japanese islands.
The US Marine Corps also opened a new base in Guam last week, a strategically important US island located east of the Philippines. The site, known as Camp Place, is the first new Navy base in 70 years and is expected to one day host 5,000 Marines.
Increased access to military bases in the Philippines would potentially put the US armed forces less than 200 miles south of Taiwan, the democratically governed island of 24 million people that the Chinese Communist Party claims as part of its sovereign territory despite not having control. Absolutely.
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 has remained steadfast in its support for the island as enshrined in the Taiwan Relations Act, under which Washington agrees to supply the island. With the means to defend itself without committing US forces.
In November, the United States Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines to discuss expanding access to the US base with recently elected President Ferdinand “BongBong” Marcos Jr. Some experts said her visit sent an unmistakable message to Beijing that the Philippines is getting closer to the United States, reversing the trend under former President, Rodrigo Duterte.
Washington and Manila are bound by a mutual defense treaty signed in 1951 that is still in effect, making it the oldest bilateral treaty alliance in the region for the United States.
In addition to expanding EDCA, the United States is helping the Philippines modernize its military and has listed it as a lead country in the Maritime Domain Awareness Initiative. The two countries also recently agreed to hold more than 500 activities together throughout the year.
Earlier this month, the Philippines announced that 16,000 Filipino and American soldiers will take part in the annual Balikatan exercises, scheduled for April 24-27.
An announcement from the state-run Philippine News Agency said the exercise would include “a live-fire exercise to test the newly acquired weapons system of the United States and the Philippines”.
Formal relations between the United States and the Philippines date back to 1898, when, as part of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War, Madrid ceded control of its colony in the Philippines to the United States.
The Philippines remained a territory of the United States until July 4, 1946, when Washington granted it independence — but the US military presence remained in the archipelagic country.
The country used to be home to two of the largest US military installations abroad, Clark Air Force Base and Naval Station Subic Bay, which supported the US war effort in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s.
The two bases were transferred to Philippine control in the 1990s, after the 1947 Military Bases Agreement between Washington and Manila expired.
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