US military to get expanded military base access in the Philippines
The US military will gain access to four more bases in the Philippines under an agreement announced during a visit by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Manila on Thursday.
In addition, the two allies said projects at five bases already included in the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) are nearing completion.
The EDCA allows the US to rotate troops to specific bases and build facilities that both countries can use.
“EDCA is a key pillar of the US-Philippine alliance that supports combined training, exercises and interoperability between our armed forces. The expansion of EDCA will make our alliance stronger and more resilient, and accelerate the modernization of our combined military capabilities,” read a joint announcement.
The announcement did not specify the location of the bases to which the US military will gain new access.
It said only that the new locations will “enable faster support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines and respond to other common challenges,” without specifying what those challenges are.
The five facilities previously covered by the EDCA were Cesar Basa Air Force Base, Fort Magsaysay Military Reserve, Lumbia Air Force Base, Antonio Bautista Air Force Base and Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Force Base.
Several U.S. defense officials told CNN earlier this week that Washington is trying to expand its access to bases in the Philippines with a view toward China, as part of an ongoing shift in troop postures in the Indo-Pacific region.
Washington has aggressively made deals in the Indo-Pacific, including announcing just a day earlier plans to share defense technology with India and planning to deploy new US naval units to Japanese islands earlier this month.
And last week, the Marine Corps officially opened a new base on Guam, a strategic US island east of the Philippines. Camp Blaz is the first new naval base in 70 years and is expected to one day house 5,000 Marines.
Improved access to military bases in the Philippines would give US forces a strategic foothold on the southeastern edge of the South China Sea, just 200 miles south of Taiwan, the democratically governed island of 24 million that the Chinese Communist Party claims as part of its sovereignty territory, although he never controlled it.
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 steadfastly backed the island, as provided for in the Taiwan Relations Act, under which Washington agrees to allow the island to remain to provide them with the means to defend themselves without deploying US troops.
Beijing also claims much of the disputed South China Sea as its territory.
The US has steadfastly urged the Chinese government to honor its obligations under international law and end its “provocative behavior” in the South China Sea.
A 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague flatly dismissed China’s claims to the South China Sea while making it clear that Beijing is violating Philippine sovereignty through activities such as island-building in Manila’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Beijing has rejected the tribunal’s verdict and has further expanded and militarily strengthened its positions in the South China Sea. She claims that the US and other countries are increasing tensions in the region by sending their warships there in violation of their sovereignty.
In November, US Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines to discuss expanding access to US bases with recently elected President Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jr. Some experts said their visit sent a clear message to Beijing that the Philippines is moving closer to the US, reversing the trend under 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 expanding the EDCA, the US is helping the Philippines modernize its military and has included it as a pilot country in a maritime 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 US troops would participate in the annual Balikatan exercise, scheduled to take place April 24-27.
This exercise will include “a live fire exercise to test the newly acquired United States and Philippines weapons system,” according to an announcement by the state-run Philippine News Agency.
Formal US ties to the Philippines date back to 1898, when Madrid ceded control of its colony in the Philippines to the US as part of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War.
The Philippines remained a US territory until July 4, 1946, when Washington granted them independence – but a US military presence remained in the archipelagic nation.
The country was once home to two of the US military’s largest overseas installations, Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Station, which supported the US war effort in Vietnam in the 1960s and early ’70s.
Both bases were handed over to Philippine control in the 1990s after a 1947 military bases agreement between Washington and Manila expired.