- The Philippines and the USA agree to add four locations under EDCA
- The deal comes amid South China Sea tensions over Taiwan
- EDCA allows US access to Philippine military bases
MANILA, Feb 2 (Reuters) – The Philippines has granted the United States expanded access to its military bases, its defense chiefs said on Thursday, amid growing concerns over China’s growing assertiveness in the sea of contested southern China and the tensions around autonomous Taiwan.
Washington would have access to four other sites under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Philippine Secretary of Defense Carlito Galvez said during a briefing. joint press conference.
Austin, who was in the Philippines for talks as Washington seeks to expand its security options in the country as part of efforts to deter any action by China against self-governing Taiwan, called Manila’s decision a “big deal”. while he and his counterpart reaffirmed their desire to strengthen their countries’ alliances.
“Our alliance makes our two democracies more secure and helps maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Austin, whose visit follows US Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to the Philippines in November, which included a stopover in Palawan in southern China. Sea.
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“We discussed concrete actions to address destabilizing activities in the waters surrounding the Philippines, including the Western Philippine Sea, and we remain committed to strengthening each other’s capabilities to resist armed attack,” Austin said.
“This is only part of our efforts to modernize our alliance. And these efforts are particularly important as the People’s Republic of China continues to assert its illegitimate claims in the Western Philippine Sea,” he said. added.
The additional locations under EDCA bring to nine the number of military bases the United States would have access to, and Washington had announced that it was allocating more than $82 million for infrastructure investment at existing sites.
EDCA allows the United States access to Philippine military bases for joint training, prepositioning of equipment, and construction of facilities such as runways, fuel storage, and military housing, but not a presence permed.
Austin and Galvez did not specify where the new locations would be. The former Philippine military leader said the United States had requested access to bases in the landmass of northern Luzon, the part of the Philippines closest to Taiwan, and on the island of Palawan, opposite the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
There was no immediate comment from the Chinese Embassy in Manila.
In front of the army headquarters, dozens of demonstrators opposed to the maintenance of a military presence of the United States in the country chanted anti-American slogans and called for the suppression of the EDCA.
Before meeting his counterpart, Austin met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr at the presidential palace on Thursday, where he assured the Southeast Asian leader, “we stand ready to assist you in any way we can.”
Ties between the United States and the Philippines, a former colony, have been soured by his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte’s overtures to China, his notorious anti-American rhetoric, and his threats to downgrade their military ties.
But Marcos has met US President Joe Biden twice since his landslide election victory last year and reiterated he cannot see a future for his country without his longtime ally.
“I have always said, it seems to me, that the future of the Philippines and for that matter, Asia-Pacific will always have to involve the United States,” Marcos said in Austin.
Reporting by Karen Lema Editing by Ed Davies and Gerry Doyle
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