- Philippines, US agree to add four destinations under EDCA
- The agreement was signed amid tensions in the South China Sea over Taiwan
- EDCA allows US access to Philippine military bases
- China says greater US access harms regional stability
MANILA, Feb 2 (Reuters) – The Philippines has granted the United States greater access to its military bases, their defense chiefs 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 at the Philippine military headquarters in Manila that the US will be granted access to four more sites under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
Austin, in the Philippines for talks as the US seeks to extend its security options, reiterated that he and his ally called the Philippines decision a “big deal” as part of an effort to block any Chinese moves against self-ruled Taiwan. Their commitment to strengthening their alliance.
“It makes our two democracies more secure and helps sustain a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Austin said, adding that a visit by US Vice President Kamala Harris in November included a stop on the island of Palawan in the South China Sea. .
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“We discussed concrete measures to address disruptive activities in the waters around the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea, and we remain committed to strengthening our mutual capabilities to counter armed attack,” Austin said.
“This is 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 illegal claims in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.
China said US access to Philippine military bases undermined regional stability and heightened tensions.
“This is an act that will increase tensions in the region and endanger regional peace and stability,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning told a regular briefing.
“Regional countries should be aware of this and avoid being exploited by the US”
The additional bases under EDCA bring to nine the number of military bases the United States has access to. The US has announced more than $82 million for infrastructure at existing sites.
The EDCA allows US access to Philippine military bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and building facilities such as runways, fuel storage and military housing, but not for permanent presence.
Austin and Galvez did not specify which sites would be opened to US access. The Philippines’ former military chief said the United States had asked for access to bases on the Philippines’ main northern island of Luzon, the closest region to Taiwan, and Palawan in the southwest, near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. .
Outside the army headquarters, dozens of protesters chanted anti-US slogans against the US military presence and called for the scrapping of the EDCA.
Before meeting with his counterpart, Austin met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and assured him of American support.
“We’re ready to help you in any way we can,” Austin said.
Relations between the US and its former colony soured under previous president Rodrigo Duterte, who campaigned on China and was known for anti-US rhetoric and threats to downgrade military ties.
Marcos, the son of a former dictator also known as Ferdinand Marcos, has met twice with President Joe Biden, won a landslide victory in last year’s election, and reiterated that his country cannot see a future without its longtime treaty ally.
“It seems to me that the future of the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific will always involve the United States,” Marcos told Austin.
Reporting by Karen Lema; Additional reporting by Eduardo Baptista in Beijing; Editing by Ed Davis and Jerry Doyle
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