The Philippines will give the United States expanded access to its military bases, giving US forces a strategic foothold on the southeastern edge of the South China Sea, near self-ruled Taiwan, the two countries said Thursday.
The newly announced deal will give the US access to four more sites under the 2014 agreement. the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), allowing the US to rotate troops to a total of nine bases in the Philippines.
In recent months, the US has stepped up efforts to expand its security capabilities in the Indo-Pacific amid growing concerns about China’s aggressive territorial posture 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 their mutual 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 promote its illegal claims in the West Philippine Sea,” Austin said, referring to China’s increased presence in waters near the Philippines.
Austin did not provide the location of the bases to which the US military will gain new access.
Thursday’s announcement follows high-profile US military deals 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 officially opened a new base in Guam, a strategically important US island east of the Philippines. Camp Blaz is the first new Marine Corps base in 70 years and is expected to one day host 5,000 Marines.
Increased access to military bases in the Philippines would put the U.S. armed forces less than 200 miles south of Taiwan, a democratically-ruled country of 24 million people. inhabited island that the Chinese Communist Party considers part of its sovereign territory, although it has never controlled it.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has refused to rule out the possibility of using military force to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control, but the Biden administration strongly supports the island as part of the Taiwan Relations Act, under which Washington agrees to grant the island. with the means to defend themselves without committing US troops.
In November, US Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines to discuss expanded access to the US base with recently elected President Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jr. Some experts said her visit sent an unequivocal message to Beijing that the Philippines is getting closer to the United States. , reversing the trends of previous President Rodrigo Duterte.
Washington and Manila are connected by 1951. signed a mutual defense treaty that remains in force, making it the oldest US bilateral treaty alliance in the region.
In addition to EDCA expansion, the US is helping the Philippines modernize its military and has included the Philippines as a pilot country in the Maritime Outreach Initiative. The two countries also recently agreed to organize more than 500 activities together throughout the year.
Earlier this month, the Philippines announced that 16,000 Philippine and US troops will participate in the annual Balikatan exercise from April 24 to 27.
The exercise will include “a live-fire exercise to test a newly acquired United States-Philippines weapons system,” the state-run Philippine News Agency said in a statement.
Official US relations with the Philippines began in 1898, when Madrid ceded control of its colony in the Philippines to the US in the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War.
The Philippines remained a US territory until 1946. July 4, when Washington granted them independence, but US military forces remained in the archipelago country.
The country used to be home to two of the US military’s largest overseas facilities, 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 end of 1947. for the Washington-Manila Agreement on Military Bases.