Philippines expands US access to military bases

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin in Manila on Thursday. Getty Images

The Philippines has granted the United States expanded access to its military bases, the countries said on Thursday, as concerns mount over China’s increasing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea and tensions over self-ruled Taiwan.

The agreement was announced during a visit to the Philippines by US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin.

You are reading: Philippines expands US access to military bases

Statements from the defence ministries of both countries said Washington would be given access to four more locations under an Enhanced Defence Co-operation Agreement (EDCA) dating back to 2014.

The US had allocated more than $82 million to infrastructure investments at the existing five sites under the EDCA, the statements said.

The EDCA allows US access to five Philippine military bases for joint training, positioning of equipment and the building of facilities such as runways, fuel storage and military housing, but not a permanent presence.

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In October, the US sought access for a larger number of its forces and weapons at five additional military camps.

The statements on Thursday did not specify which additional bases the US would receive access to. The former Philippine military chief said previously the United States had requested access to bases on the northern land mass of Luzon, the closest part of the Philippines to Taiwan, and on the island of Palawan, facing the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Mr Austin met Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr at the presidential palace on Thursday before meeting his counterpart Carlito Galvez.

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

Mr Austin visited southern Zamboanga city and met Filipino generals and a small contingent of US counterterrorism forces based at a local military camp, regional Philippine military commander Lt Gen Roy Galido said. The more than 100 US military personnel have provided intelligence and combat advice for years to Filipino troops facing a decades-long Muslim insurgency, which has considerably eased but remains a key threat.

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More recently, US forces have intensified and broadened joint training, focusing on combat readiness and disaster response, with Filipino troops on the nation’s western coast, which faces the South China Sea, and in its northern Luzon region across the sea from the Taiwan Strait.

Mr Austin’s visit follows a three-day trip by US Vice President Kamala Harris to the Philippines in November, which included a stop on Palawan.

The Philippines and fellow Asean members Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, along with Taiwan, are locked in increasingly tense territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea. The US is regarded as a crucial counterweight to China in the region and has pledged to come to the defence of the Philippines if Filipino forces, ships or aircraft come under attack in the contested waters.

The Philippines used to host two of the largest US Navy and Air Force bases outside the American mainland. The bases were shut down in the early 1990s after the Philippine senate rejected an extension, but American forces returned for large-scale combat exercises with Filipino troops under a 1999 visiting forces agreement.

The Philippine constitution prohibits permanent bases for foreign troops and their involvement in local combat.

With reporting from agencies

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