The Philippines will allow the United States to expand its military bases, the two countries said on Thursday, giving the US military a strategic approach to the southeastern tip of the South China Sea near self-ruled Taiwan.
The newly announced agreement will give the US access to four more bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that began in 2014, allowing the US to transfer troops to a total of nine bases in the Philippines.
The US has stepped up efforts to expand Indo-Pacific security options in recent months, amid growing concerns about China’s growing influence in the region.
Speaking during a visit to Manila Thursday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the US and the Philippines are working hard to strengthen each other’s capabilities to resist attacks.
“That is just part of our efforts to renew our partnership. These efforts are especially important as the people of the Republic of China continue to claim illegal activities in the West Philippine Sea,” Austin said, referring to China’s increasing -increase in waters near the Philippines.
Austin did not provide a new location for US military bases.
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 naval forces to Japanese islands.
The US Marine Corps also opened a new base in Guam last week, an important US island located east of the Philippines. This location, known as Camp Blaz, is the first new base in 70 years and one day is expected to accommodate 5,000 Marines.
Increased access to military bases in the Philippines would put U.S. forces less than 200 miles south of Taiwan, the 24-million-strong democratic island that Communist China claims as part of its territory. although he was never in control.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has refused to rule out the use of military force to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s rule, but the Biden administration has remained steadfast in its support for the island under the Taiwan Relations Act, which Washington agreed to grant the island. in a way to defend itself against the US military.
In November, US Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines to discuss the possibility of US access with recently elected President Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jr. , reversing the process under the previous president, Rodrigo Duterte.
Washington and Manila signed a mutual defense agreement in 1951 that is permanent, making it the oldest regional diplomatic treaty for the United States.
In addition to the expansion of the EDCA, the US is helping the Philippines to improve its military and put it as a pilot country in the maritime sector awareness initiative. The two countries also recently agreed to conduct more than 500 joint activities during the year.
Earlier this month, the Philippines announced that 16,000 Philippine and US troops will participate in the annual Balikatan exercise, which is scheduled to take place from April 24 to April 27.
The exercise will include “a live-fire exercise to test the latest US-Philippine weapons systems,” a statement from the Philippine state media said.
US relations with the Philippines go back to 1898, when as part of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War, Madrid ceded its territories 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 island nation.
The country was once home to two of the largest US military bases overseas, Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Station, which supported the US war effort in Vietnam in the 1960s and early ’70s.
Both bases were transferred to Philippine control in the 1990s, after the 1947 military bases agreement between Washington and Manila expired.