The Philippines will provide the United States with increased access to its military bases, the two countries said on Thursday, providing US forces with a strategic base on the southeastern edge of the South China Sea near self-ruled Taiwan.
The newly announced agreement will give the US access to four more sites under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) dating back to 2014, allowing the US to rotate troops to a total of nine bases throughout the Philippines.
The United States has stepped up efforts to expand its Indo-Pacific security options in recent months, amid growing concerns about China’s aggressive territorial posture across the region.
Speaking during a visit to Manila on Thursday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the US and the Philippines remain committed to strengthening their mutual capabilities to resist armed attack.
“This is just part of our efforts to modernize our alliance. And these efforts are especially important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea,” Austin said, referring to China’s increased presence in waters close to the Philippines.
Austin did not give the location of the bases to which the US military will gain new access.
Thursday’s announcement follows a series of high-profile US military deals across the region, including plans to share defense technology with India, and plans to deploy new US naval units to Japanese islands.
The US Marine Corps also opened a new base in Guam last week, a strategically important US island east of the Philippines. The site, known as Camp Blaz, is the first new naval base in 70 years and is expected to one day house 5,000 Marines.
Increased access to military bases in the Philippines would put US armed forces less than 200 miles south of Taiwan, the democratically-ruled island of 24 million that the Chinese Communist Party claims as part of its sovereign territory despite never having 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 been steadfast in its support for the island as provided by the Taiwan Relations Act, under which Washington agrees to provide the island. with the means to defend themselves without forcing American troops.
In November, US Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines to discuss expanded US basing access with newly elected President Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jr. Some experts said her visit sent an unequivocal message to Beijing that the Philippines is getting closer to the United States. , reversing the trend under the previous president, Rodrigo Duterte.
Washington and Manila are linked by a mutual defense treaty signed in 1951 that remains in force, making it the oldest bilateral treaty alliance in the region for the United States.
In addition to the expansion of the EDCA, the United States is helping the Philippines modernize its military and has included it as a pilot country in a maritime domain 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 American troops will participate in the annual exercise Balikatan, which will be held from April 24 to 27.
That exercise will include “a live-fire exercise to test the newly acquired weapons system of the United States and the Philippines,” an announcement by the state-run Philippine News Agency said.
Formal American ties to the Philippines go back to 1898, when as part of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War, Madrid ceded control of its colony in the Philippines to the United States.
The Philippines remained an American territory until July 4, 1946, when Washington granted it independence – but an American military presence remained in the archipelago.
The country used to be home to two of the US military’s largest overseas installations, Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Station, which supported the US military effort in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 70s.
Both bases were transferred to Philippine control in the 1990s, after a 1947 military base agreement between Washington and Manila expired.