The Philippines has agreed to provide the United States with expanded access to key military bases in the Southeast Asian country.
Washington and Manila agreed on plans to “accelerate the full implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the full agreement to designate four new agreed locations in strategic areas” of the Philippines, the two nations’ defense departments said in statements on Thursday.
The two sides also agreed on “the substantial completion of the projects in the existing five agreed locations,” they said.
Under the agreement, the US will have access to Philippine military bases, likely including two on the northern island of Luzon.
Washington’s access to those bases, according to military experts, could provide US forces a strategic position from which to mount operations in the event of a conflict over Chinese Taipei or in the South China Sea.
China claims sovereignty over virtually all of the South China Sea, which is also claimed in part by Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The waters are believed to sit atop vast reserves of oil and gas.
The increased military cooperation with the United States “bodes well for our defense posture,” a Philippine defense official told The Washington Post.
The official said Manila sought to bolster its own security and the move was “not aimed at any particular country.”
He said President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. “realizes the dynamics of the region at the moment and that the Philippines really needs to step up.”
The official also asserted that Marcos had been closely monitoring developments in the Taiwan Strait and in the West Philippine Sea. “We’ve already got incursions from multiple countries and the tensions are still expected to rise,” he added.
The South Asian nation, once a US territory, hosted massive US presence after World War II, including at two of the largest American military facilities overseas. The arrangement ended in 1991 when the Philippine senate forced the Americans to relinquish all US bases in the Philippines. The two countries later signed the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
Relations between Manila and Washington were strained under former President Rodrigo Duterte, who threatened to end the Visiting Forces Agreement, which would have made it far more difficult for US forces to access the Philippines. Duterte, however, relented and restored the agreement last year.
Last week, the US officially opened a new base on Guam, a strategically important island east of the Philippines. The base, Camp Blaz, which is the first new Marine base in 70 years, is expected to host 5,000 US Marines.
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