The Philippines gives the US greater access to bases amid concerns from China

  • The Philippines and the United States have agreed to add four sites under EDCA
  • The agreement comes amid tensions in the South China Sea, over Taiwan
  • EDCA allows the United States access to Philippine military bases

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines has given the United States expanded access to its military bases, Philippine defense chiefs said on Thursday, amid growing concerns about China’s growing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea and tensions over self-ruled Taiwan.

Washington will be granted access to four more sites under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Philippine Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez said at a joint news conference.

Austin, who was in the Philippines for talks as Washington seeks to expand its security options in the country as part of efforts to deter any move by China against self-ruled Taiwan, called Manila’s decision a “big deal,” he and his counterpart said. They renewed their commitment to strengthening the alliance of their countries.

“Our alliance makes both of our democracies safer and helps preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Austin, whose visit follows US Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to the Philippines in November, which included a stop in Palawan in southern China. Sea.

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“We discussed concrete actions to address destabilizing activities in the waters surrounding the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea, and we remain committed to strengthening our mutual capabilities to resist armed attack,” Austin said.

“This is just part of our efforts to modernize our alliance. These efforts are particularly important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.

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The additional sites under EDCA bring the number of military bases the US has access to nine, and Washington has announced it is setting aside more than $82 million for infrastructure investments at existing sites.

EDCA allows the United States access to Philippine military bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and building facilities such as runways, fuel storage and military housing, but not permanent presence.

Austin and Galvez did not say where the new sites would be. The former Philippine army chief had said the United States had requested access to bases in the northern land mass of Luzon, the closest part of the Philippines to Taiwan, and on the island of Palawan, which faces the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

There was no immediate comment from the Chinese embassy in Manila.

Outside the military headquarters, dozens of demonstrators opposed to the US military presence in the country chanted anti-US slogans and called for the Christian Civil Defense Alliance to be abolished.

Before meeting his counterpart, Austin met Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the presidential palace on Thursday, where he assured the Southeast Asian leader, “We stand ready to help you in any way we can.”

Relations between the United States and the Philippines, a former colony, have been strained due to predecessor Rodrigo Duterte’s overtures towards China and his famous anti-American rhetoric and threats to downgrade military relations between them.

But Marcos has met US President Joe Biden twice since his landslide election victory last year and stressed he cannot see a future for his country without its longtime treaty ally.

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“I’ve always said, it seems to me, the future of the Philippines is, and that’s why the Asia-Pacific region will always involve the United States,” Marcos told Austin.

(Reporting on Karen Lima. Editing) By Ed Davies and Jerry Doyle

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