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US and Philippines agree to greater US military presence

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US military presence

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The United States and the Philippines on Thursday announced plans to expand American military presence in the Southeast Asian nation, with access to four additional bases as they seek to deter increasingly aggressive Chinese actions against Taiwan. and in the disputed South China Sea.

The deal was reached while US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was in the country for discussions on deploying US forces and weapons to other Philippine military camps.

In a joint announcement from the Philippines and the United States, the two said they had decided to accelerate the full implementation of their so-called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which aims to support training, combined exercises and interoperability.

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As part of the agreement, the United States has allocated $82 million to improve infrastructure at five current EDCA sites and expanded its military presence to four new sites in “strategic areas of the country”. , according to the press release.

Austin arrived in the Philippines on Tuesday from South Korea, where he said the United States would increase its deployment of advanced weapons. such as fighter jets and bombers on the Korean Peninsula to enhance joint training with South Korean forces in response to North Korea’s growing nuclear threat.

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In the Philippines, Washington’s oldest ally in Asia and a key front in the US battle against terrorism, Austin traveled to the southern city of Zamboanga and met with Filipino generals and a small contingent of US counterterrorism forces. based in a local military camp, the Philippine Regional Military Commander Lt,” said General Roy Galido. The more than 100 U.S. military personnel have provided intelligence and combat advice for years to Filipino troops battling a decades-long Muslim insurgency.which has subsided considerably but remains a major threat.

More recently, US forces have intensified and expanded joint training focused on combat readiness and disaster response with Philippine troops on the country’s west coast, which faces the South China Sea, and in its northern region of Luzon, across the sea from the Taiwan Strait.

US forces were given access to five Philippine military camps, where they could rotate indefinitely under the 2014 EDCA defense pact.

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In October, the United States requested access for more of its forces and weapons to five additional military camps, mostly in the north. The request would be high on the agenda of the Austin meetings, according to Filipino officials.

“Secretary Austin’s visit will certainly have to do with many ongoing discussions at EDCA sites,” Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Romualdez said during a press briefing.

Austin was scheduled to speak Thursday with his Filipino counterpart, Carlito Galvez Jr., and national security adviser Eduardo Ano, Romualdez said. Austin will separately call President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June and has since taken steps to strengthen relations with Washington.

The US defense chief is the latest senior official to visit the Philippines after Vice President Kamala Harris in November. in a sign of warming ties after a tense period under Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte had maintained comfortable ties with China and Russia and at one point threatened to sever ties with Washington, expel visiting US forces and abrogate a major defense pact.

Romualdez said the Philippines must cooperate with Washington to deter any escalation of tensions between China and self-governing Taiwan — not just because of the treaty alliance, but to help prevent a major conflict.

“We are in a catch-22 situation. If China acts militarily on Taiwan, we will be affected – and the whole ASEAN region, but especially us, Japan and South Korea,” Romualdez told The Associated Press, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian nations, the 10-nation regional organization. block that includes the Philippines.

The Philippines and ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan, are locked in increasingly tense territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea. The United States was seen as a crucial counterweight to China in the region and pledged to come to the defense of the Philippines if Philippine forces, ships or aircraft are attacked in disputed waters.

The Philippines was once home to two of the largest US Navy and Air Force bases outside of the continental United States. The bases were closed in the early 1990s after the Philippine Senate rejected an extension, but U.S. forces returned for large-scale combat exercises with Philippine troops under a 1999 forces agreement. visiting.

The Philippine Constitution prohibits the permanent stationing of foreign troops and their involvement in local combat.

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