News U.S. military expands access to Philippine bases to counter China
The Philippines will allow the United States to expand access to its military bases, giving U.S. forces a greater strategic foothold on the southeastern edge of the South China Sea near self-governing Taiwan, the two countries said on Thursday.
Under an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) dating back to 2014, the newly announced agreement will give the US access to four additional locations, allowing the US to rotate troops to a total of nine bases within the Philippines.
In recent months, the United States has stepped up efforts to expand its Indo-Pacific security options amid growing concerns about China’s aggressive territorial posture in the region.
Speaking during a visit to Manila on Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the U.S. and the Philippines remain committed to strengthening their countries’ ability to defend against armed attacks.
“This is just one part of our efforts to modernize our alliances. These efforts are especially important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegal claims in the West Philippine Sea.”
Austin did not give the location of the bases where the U.S. military will gain new access.
China warned the move would raise tensions in the region. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said on Thursday that the Philippines had allowed the United States to enter four defense bases on its territory “exacerbating tension in the region and endangering regional peace and stability”.
“The United States insists on the Cold War out of its own selfish desires. Countries in the region should remain vigilant against this and avoid being used by the United States.”
Thursday’s announcement follows a string of high-profile U.S. military deals across the region, including plans to share defense technology with India and deploy new U.S. Marines to the Japanese islands.
The U.S. Marine Corps also opened a new base last week in Guam, a strategically important U.S. island east of the Philippines. Known as Camp Blaz, the site is the first new Marine Corps base in 70 years and is expected to one day house 5,000 Marines.
Increased access to Philippine military bases could put U.S. armed forces less than 200 miles south of Taiwan, the democratically ruled island of 24 million that the Chinese Communist Party claims as its sovereignty, though it has never controlled it part of the territory.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has refused to rule out the use of force to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control, but the Biden administration has been steadfast in its support for the island under the Taiwan Relations Act, under which Washington agreed to provide the island with a means Defend yourself without sending US troops.
In November, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines to discuss expanding access to U.S. bases with recently elected President Ferdinand “Bon Bon” Marcos Jr. Some experts said her visit sent a clear message to Beijing that the Philippines was moving closer to the United States, reversing a trend under her predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.
Washington and Manila are bound by a mutual defense treaty signed in 1951 that remains in effect today, making it the oldest bilateral treaty alliance of the United States in the region.
In addition to expanding EDCA, the United States is helping the Philippines modernize its military and has made it a pilot country for the Maritime Domain Awareness Initiative. The two countries also recently agreed to co-host more than 500 events throughout the year.
Earlier this month, the Philippines announced that 16,000 Filipino and US troops would take part in the annual “Alliance” exercise, which is scheduled to run from April 24 to April 27.
An announcement by the state-run Philippine News Agency said the exercise would include “a live-fire exercise to test newly acquired U.S. and Philippine weapons systems.”
Formal U.S. relations with the Philippines date back to 1898, when Madrid ceded control of its colony in the Philippines to the U.S. as part of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War.
The Philippines was a US territory until July 4, 1946, when Washington granted it independence – but US troops remained in the archipelagic nation.
The country was once home to Clark Air Force Base and Subic Bay Naval Base, two of the US military’s largest overseas installations, which supported the US war effort in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s.
The two bases were transferred to Philippine control in the 1990s after the 1947 military base agreement between Washington and Manila expired.