The Philippines will provide the United States with expanded access to their military bases, the two countries announced on Thursday, giving U.S. forces a strategic position on the southeastern edge of the South China Sea near self-governing Taiwan.
The recently announced deal will give the United States access to four more sites under a 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), allowing the United States to rotate troops on a total of nine bases across the Philippines.
The United States has stepped up efforts to expand its security options in the Indo-Pacific in recent months amid growing concerns about China’s aggressive territorial posture across the region.
Speaking during a visit to Manila on Thursday, US Secretary of Defense Llyod Austin said the United States and the Philippines remain committed to enhancing each other’s capabilities to resist armed attacks.
“This is part of our efforts to modernize our alliance. And these efforts are especially important as the People’s Republic of China continues to assert its illegitimate claims in the Western Philippine Sea,” Austin said, referring to China’s increased presence in waters near the Philippines.
Austin did not give the location of the bases to which the US military will have new access.
Thursday’s announcement follows a series of high-profile US military deals across the region, including plans to share defense technology with India and plans to deploy new US Navy units to the islands. Japanese.
The US Marine Corps also opened a new base in Guam, a strategically important US island east of the Philippines, last week. The location, known as Camp Blaz, is the first new Marine base in 70 years and is expected to one day accommodate 5,000 Marines.
Increased access to military bases in the Philippines would place US armed forces less than 200 miles south of Taiwan, the democratically-ruled island of 24 million that the Chinese Communist Party claims as part of its sovereign territory despite he never controlled her.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has refused to rule out the use of military force to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control, but the Biden administration has been firm in its support for the island, as required by the law on relations with China. Taiwan, under which Washington agrees to provide the island with the means to defend itself without committing American troops.
In November, US Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines to discuss expanding access to the US base with recently elected President Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jr. Some experts said her visit had sent an unambiguous message to Beijing that the Philippines was getting closer to the United States. , reversing the trend under the previous president, Rodrigo Duterte.
Washington and Manila are bound by a mutual defense treaty signed in 1951 that remains in effect, making it the oldest bilateral treaty alliance in the region for the United States.
In addition to the EDCA expansion, the United States is helping the Philippines modernize its military and has included it as a pilot nation in a maritime domain awareness initiative. The two countries also recently agreed to hold more than 500 activities together throughout the year.
Earlier this month, the Philippines announced that 16,000 Filipino and American troops would take part in the annual Balikatan exercise, which will run from April 24-27.
This exercise will include “a live-fire exercise to test the newly acquired weapons system from the United States and the Philippines,” said an announcement from the official Philippine news agency.
The United States’ official ties with the Philippines date back to 1898, when as part of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish–American War, Madrid ceded control of its colony in the Philippines to the United States.
The Philippines remained a US territory until July 4, 1946, when Washington granted them independence – but a US military presence remained in the archipelago nation.
The country was once home to two of the largest US military installations overseas, Clark Air Force Base and Naval Station Subic Bay, which supported the US war effort in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Both bases were transferred to Philippine control in the 1990s after a 1947 military base agreement between Washington and Manila expired.