The US military will gain expanded access to Philippine bases in its 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 more sites under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which allows the US to rotate troops to a total of nine bases in the Philippines.

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

Speaking during a visit to Manila on Thursday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the US and the Philippines remain committed to strengthening each other’s capacity to withstand an armed attack.

“This is just part of our efforts to modernize our union. 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 the 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 series 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 Marine Corps also opened a new base last week on Guam, a strategically important US island east of the Philippines. The site, known as Camp Blaz, is the first new Marine base in 70 years and is expected to one day host 5,000 Marines.

Increased access to military bases in the Philippines would put U.S. forces less than 200 miles south of Taiwan, the democratically-ruled island of 24 million people that the Chinese Communist Party claims is part of its sovereign territory, although it has never she didn’t control him.

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 been steadfast in its support for the island, as outlined in the Taiwan Relations Act, under which Washington agrees to grant the island with the means to defend itself without committing American troops.

In November, the US Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines to discuss expanded access to US bases with recently elected President Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jr. Some experts said her visit sent an unequivocal message to Beijing that the Philippines is moving closer to the US, 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 it the oldest bilateral treaty alliance in the region for the United States.

In addition to expanding EDCA, the US is helping the Philippines modernize its military and has included it as a pilot country in a maritime awareness initiative. The two countries recently agreed to jointly conduct more than 500 activities during 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 in a statement.

Official US ties to 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 US.

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

The country was home to two of the US military’s 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, following the expiration of the 1947 Military Basing Agreement between Washington and Manila.

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