Philippines grants U.S. greater access to bases amid China concerns

  • Philippines and US agree to add four sites under EDCA
  • The deal comes amid tensions in the South China Sea over Taiwan
  • EDCA grants US access to Philippine military bases

MANILA, Feb 2 (Reuters) – The Philippines has given the United States expanded access to its military bases, the countries said on Thursday amid growing concerns over China’s increasing clout in the disputed South China Sea and tensions over self-governing Taiwan.

Washington would gain access to four additional sites under a 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), according to statements from the two countries’ defense ministries.

“The Philippine-US alliance has stood the test of time and remains adamant. We look forward to the opportunities these new locations will create to expand our collaboration together,” the statements said.

The United States had announced that it would provide more than $82 million for infrastructure investments at the existing five sites under the EDCA.

The EDCA grants the US access to Philippine military bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and construction of facilities such as airstrips, fuel storage facilities and military housing, but no permanent presence.

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US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was in Manila for talks as Washington seeks to expand its security options in the Philippines to deter any move by China against self-governing Taiwan.

The statements did not specify where the new sites would be located. The former Philippine military chief had said the United States had requested access to bases on the northern landmass of Luzon, the closest part of the Philippines to Taiwan, and on the island of Palawan across from the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila initially did not comment.

Austin also met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the presidential palace on Thursday before meeting with his counterpart Carlito Galvez, where he assured the Southeast Asian leader “we stand ready to help you in any way we can.”

Marcos, who has met with US President Joe Biden twice since his landslide victory in the presidential election in May, reiterated that he could not see a future for his country without his longtime contractor.

“I’ve always said, it seems to me, the future of the Philippines and Asia Pacific will always have to involve the United States,” Marcos told Austin.

Austin’s visit follows a three-day trip to the Philippines by US Vice President Kamala Harris in November, which included a stop in Palawan. There, Harris said Washington will stand by the Philippines in the face of intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea.

In front of the military headquarters, dozens of demonstrators with anti-US slogans called for the EDCA to be scrapped.

Reporting by Karen Lema Editing by Ed Davies and Gerry Doyle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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