Eye on China, Philippines gives US greater access to its bases
The Philippines has granted the United States greater access to its military bases, their defence chiefs said on Thursday, amid mounting concern over China’s increasing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea and tension over self-ruled Taiwan.
The US would be given access to four more locations under the 2014 Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), US defence secretary Lloyd Austin and Philippines’ defence secretary Carlito Galvez said in a joint news conference at the Philippine military headquarters in Manila.
With the deal, Washington would stitch the gap in the arc of US alliances stretching from South Korea and Japan in the north to Australia in the south.
Austin, in the Philippines for talks as the US seeks to extend its security options as part of efforts to deter any move by China against self-ruled Taiwan, referred to the Philippine decision as a “big deal” as he and his counterpart reaffirmed their commitment to bolstering their alliance.
“Our alliance makes both of our democracies more secure and helps uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Austin, whose visit follows one by US vice president Kamala Harris in November, which included a stop at Palawan island in the South China Sea. “We discussed concrete actions to address destabilising activities in the waters surrounding the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea, and we remain committed to strengthening our mutual capacities to resist armed attack,” he said.
“That’s part of our efforts to modernise our alliance. And these efforts are especially important as People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.
China said greater US access to Philippine military bases undermined regional stability and raised tensions. “This is an act that escalates tensions in the region and endangers regional peace and stability,” China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said. “Regional countries should remain vigilant about this and avoid being used by the US. ”The additional sites under the EDCA bring to nine the number of military bases the US would have access to. The US has announced it was allocating over $82 million for infrastructure at the existing sites.
The EDCA allows US access to Philippine military bases for joint training, prepositioning of equipment and the building of facilitiessuch as runways, fuel storage and military housing, but not for a permanent presence.
Austin and Galvez did not specify the sites that would be opened to US access. The former Philippine military chief had said the US had asked for access to bases on the main northern island of Luzon, the closest part of the Philippines to Taiwan, and on Palawan, near the disputed Spratly Islands in South China Sea. Austin also met Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and assured him of support. “We stand ready to help you in any way we can,” he said.Article Source