MANILA, Philippines – The United States. And the Philippines have announced plans to expand. America’s military presence in the Southeast. Asian nation with access to four more bases to deter China’s aggressive moves toward Taiwan. And in the disputed South China Sea.
The deal came as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in the country to discuss.
The deployment of US forces and weapons to more military bases in the Philippines.
In a joint announcement by the Philippines and the United States. The two said they have decided to speed up the full implementation. Their so-called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. Which aims to support joint training, exercises and interoperability.
As part of the agreement, the United States allocated. $82 million for infrastructure improvements at five current EDCA sites. And expanded its military presence. At four new sites in “strategic areas of the country,” according to the statement.
Austin arrived in the Philippines on Tuesday from South Korea. Where he said the United States would increase. The deployment of advanced weapons such as fighter jets. And bombers to the Korean Peninsula to bolster joint training. South Korean forces in response to North Korea’s growing nuclear threat.
In the Philippines, Washington’s oldest treaty ally in Asia.
A key front in the US war on terrorism, Austin visited the southern city of Zamboanga. And met with Filipino generals and a small contingent of US counterterrorism forces stationed. At a local military base, the regional Philippine military. Commander Lieutenant General Roy Galido. More than 100 US military personnel have provided intelligence. And combat advice for years to Filipino troops battling a decades-long Muslim insurgency. Which has waned but remains a major threat.
More recently, US forces have intensified and expanded joint training with Filipino troops. On the country’s west coast, which faces the South China Sea. And in its northern Luzon region across the sea from the Taiwan Strait. Focusing on combat preparedness and disaster response.
American forces were granted access to five Philippine military bases. Under the 2014 EDCA defense agreement where they could roam .
In October, the United States sought access. An more five military bases in the north for a greater number of its forces. And weapons. The request will be high on the agenda at the Austin meeting, according to Philippine officials.
“Secretary Austin’s visit will be related to the many ongoing discussions. At the EDCA sites,” Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Romualdez said in a news briefing.
Austin was scheduled to hold talks Thursday.
His Philippine counterpart Carlito Galvez Jr. and National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, Romualdez said. Austin will meet with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June. And has since taken steps to strengthen ties with Washington.
The US defense chief is the latest senior official to visit. The Philippines since Vice President Kamala Harris in November in a sign of warmer relations. After a tense period under Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte has cultivated cozy relations with China and Russia. And at one point threatened to cut ties with Washington. Expel American forces from inspections and cancel a major defense contract.
Romualdez said the Philippines needs to cooperate with Washington to prevent. Any escalation of tensions between China. And self-ruled Taiwan – not because of treaty alliances but to help prevent a major conflict.
“We are in a catch-22 situation. If China moves against Taiwan
We will suffer – and all the ASEAN region. But us, Japan and South Korea,” Romualdez told The Associated Press. Referring to the 10-nation regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc. That includes the Philippines. .
Along with Taiwan, the Philippines and ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia. And Vietnam are locked in an tense territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea. The United States is considered an important counterweight to China in the region. And has pledged to come to the Philippines’ defense if. It is attacked by Filipino forces, ships or plane in contested waters.
The Philippines hosted two of the largest US Navy. And Air Force bases outside the American mainland. The bases were closed in the early 1990s after the Philippine Senate rejected. An extension, but American forces returned for large-scale combat exercises with Filipino troops. Under the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement.
The Philippine constitution prohibits permanent bases of foreign troops. And their participation in local wars.