Deal expands Washington’s access to military bases near Taiwan and the South China Sea
The Philippines has granted the US expanded access to its military bases, greatly enhancing Washington’s presence in the region at a time of growing concern about Chinese aggression.
Washington would be given access to four additional military bases in “strategic areas of the country”, the Philippines’ Department of National Defense said on Thursday, without specifying the locations.
The expanded access will fill a crucial gap in US positioning in the region, say analysts, and enable it to better monitor Chinese activity in the South China Sea and near Taiwan.
The deal has been made under an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that allows the US access to Philippine bases for joint training, storing equipment and supplies, and building of facilities, though not to establish a permanent presence. The US already has access to five sites.
The arrangement will strengthen the US presence in the Indo-Pacific, where it has military treaties with countries stretching from Japan and Korea in the north, to Thailand and the Philippines and, in the south, Australia. US officials have previously commented that the positioning of US military equipment in Asia was too strongly oriented towards north-east Asia.
In its statement, the Philippines Department of National Defense said Washington would allocate more than $82m (£67m) toward infrastructure investments at the five previous bases it was given access to. “The Philippine-US alliance has stood the test of time and remains ironclad,” it said.
China’s ministry of foreign affairs spokesperson told a regular press briefing on Thursday the US was strengthening its military deployment in the region “out of its own selfish interests and with a zero-sum mentality”.
Mao Ning accused the US of “exacerbating regional tension and jeopardising regional peace and stability”, and said other countries in the region should be wary of being “taken advantage of” by the US.
In Chinese state media, coverage focused on assessments that the US was expanding its military footprint in the region “to counter China”, and that the Philippines should take care in balancing its relationships with both countries.
The announcement was made during a visit to Manila by the US defence secretary Lloyd Austin, who was scheduled to hold talks with his Philippine counterpart, Carlito Galvez Jr, and national security adviser, Eduardo Año, as well as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
It has been widely reported that the US asked for access to bases on Luzon, the closest part of the Philippines to Taiwan, and on the island of Palawan, the closest landmass to the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Such sites were valuable for two reasons, said Denny Roy, senior fellow at the East-West Center, Honolulu. “They are geographically close to the top two flashpoints involving China: Taiwan and the South China Sea,” he said, adding: “Second, additional places in the area where the USA can pre-position forces helps to lessen the problem of concentrating too many forces in a small number of places that might be vulnerable to Chinese missile attacks.”
Source: The Guardian