The Philippines has given the United States more access to its military sites, which comes amid growing worry about China’s escalating assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea and tension over Taiwan’s self-rule, according to their defense chiefs on Thursday.
In a joint press conference held at the Philippine military headquarters in Manila, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Philippine Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez announced that four more locations would be made accessible to the United States under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
Austin referred to the Philippine decision as a “big deal” as he and his counterpart reaffirmed their commitment to fortifying their alliance while in the Philippines for talks as the United States seeks to expand its security options in an effort to thwart any move by China against self-ruled Taiwan.
Austin’s visit comes after a visit by US Vice President Kamala Harris in November, which included a stop at Palawan island in the South China Sea. Harris’ visit was followed by Austin’s statement that “our alliance makes both of our democracies more secure and helps uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Austin said, “We discussed concrete actions to address destabilizing activities in the waters surrounding the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea, and we remain committed to strengthening our mutual capacities to resist armed attack.”
“That’s 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,” he added.
Greater US access to Philippine military bases, according to China, threatens regional peace and heightens tensions.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning in a regular briefing said, “This is an act that escalates tensions in the region and endangers regional peace and stability,”
“Regional countries should remain vigilant about this and avoid being used by the US,” he added.
Nine military bases would be available to the United States as a result of the extra sites under the EDCA. According to a statement made by the United States, more than $82 million will be set aside for infrastructure at the current sites.
The EDCA grants access to US military bases in the Philippines for joint training, equipment prepositioning, and the construction of infrastructure including runways, fuel storage, and military housing, but not for a permanent presence.
Austin and Galvez did not list the sites that will be made accessible to Americans. The United States has requested access to bases on the major northern island of Luzon, the region of the Philippines closest to Taiwan, and on Palawan in the southwest, close to the contentious Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, according to the former head of the Philippine military.
Numerous anti-US demonstrators shouted anti-American chants and demanded the repeal of the EDCA outside the military headquarters.
Austin informed Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos of American support before meeting his counterpart.
“We stand ready to help you in any way we can,” Austin said.
Under the previous president, Rodrigo Duterte, who was well-known for his anti-American rhetoric and vowed to decrease military ties while making overtures to China, relations between the United States and its former colony deteriorated.
Since winning an election by a landslide last year and reiterating that he could not envision a future for his country without its longtime treaty ally, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., has met with President Joe Biden twice.
“I have always said, it seems to me, the future of the Philippines and for that matter the Asia-Pacific will always have to involve the United States,” Marcos told Austin.