- The Philippines and the US agree to add four locations under the EDCA
- The deal comes amid tensions in the South China Sea over Taiwan
- EDCA allows US access to Philippine military bases
MANILA, Feb 2 (Reuters) – The Philippines has given the United States permission to expand its military bases, its defense chief said on Thursday, amid growing concerns over China’s growing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea and tensions over self-ruled Taiwan.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Philippine Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez said in a joint press conference that Washington will be granted access to four more sites under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
Austin, who arrived in the Philippines for talks as Washington seeks to expand security options in the country as part of efforts to block any move by China against self-ruled Taiwan, said he and his counterpart described Manila’s decision as a “big deal.” Reaffirmed their countries’ commitment to strengthening their alliance.
“Our alliance makes both of our democracies more secure and helps promote a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Austin said, following US Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to the Philippines in November, which included a stop in Palawan, South China. the sea
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“We discussed strong measures to address destabilizing activities in the waters around the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea, and we are committed to strengthening our mutual capabilities to counter armed aggression,” Austin said.
“This is just part of our efforts to renew our alliance. These efforts are especially important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance illegal claims in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.
The additional locations under EDCA bring the number of military bases accessible to the United States to nine, and Washington announced more than $82 million in infrastructure investments at existing sites.
EDCA allows access to Philippine military bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and construction of facilities such as runways, fuel storage and military housing, but not permanent presence.
Austin and Galvez did not specify where the new locations would be. A former Philippine military chief said the United States had requested access to bases on Luzon and Palawan island, the Philippines’ closest northern landmass to Taiwan, which overlook the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
There was no immediate response from the Chinese embassy in Manila.
Outside the army headquarters, dozens of protesters opposed to the US maintaining a military presence in the country chanted anti-US slogans and demanded the repeal of the EDCA.
Before meeting his opponent, Austin met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the presidential palace on Thursday, where he assured the Southeast Asian leader that “we are ready to help you in any way we can”.
Relations between the former colony of the United States and the Philippines have been strained by predecessor Rodrigo Duterte’s statements toward China, his famous anti-US rhetoric and threats to downgrade their military ties.
But Marcos met twice with US President Joe Biden after his landslide victory in last year’s election, reiterating that he could not see his country’s future without its longtime treaty ally.
“I’ve always said, I feel for the future of the Philippines, the Asia Pacific will always have to include the United States,” Marcos told Austin.
Reporting by Karen Lema Editing by Ed Davis and Jerry Doyle
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