U.S. military poised to secure new access to key Philippine bases

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The US military is poised to gain expanded access to key bases in the Philippines on the heels of a significant revamp of US force posture in Japan — developments that reflect allies’ concerns with an increasingly fraught security environment in the region and a desire to deepen alliances with the United States, according to the US and Philippine. Officers.

While talks are still ongoing, an announcement is expected later this week when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meets his counterpart in Manila and then President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

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The expansion would also include access to Philippine military bases, including two on the northern island of Luzon — which analysts said would give US forces a strategic position to mount operations in the event of a conflict in Taiwan or the South China Sea. They facilitate cooperation on a range of security concerns, including more rapid responses to natural disasters and climate-related events.

Extensive work has been done in the Philippines over the past few months to assess and evaluate the various sites, and at least two of them have been pinned down, said a State Department official, who, like other officials, spoke on condition of anonymity. Not authorized to talk about discussions.

A Philippine defense official said a deal on the additional sites was “more or less” done but would be formalized when the two defense secretaries meet. Two office assistants He said key details continued to emerge in recent days and that at least two new sites are located in Luzon.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan discussed the issue with his counterpart Eduardo Año earlier this month as part of the White House’s efforts to boost cooperation with Indo-Pacific allies, a US official said.

Increased military cooperation with the United States is “good for our defense posture,” the Philippine official said. But, he emphasized that the Philippines is “not targeting any specific country” to enhance its security.

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Marcos “realizes the dynamics of the region at this time and the Philippines really needs to step up,” the official said, adding that the president is closely monitoring developments in the Taiwan Strait and the West Philippine Sea. “We have already received attacks from many countries and tensions are expected to rise.”

While expanded base access is not a security linchpin for the region, “it’s a very big deal,” said Gregory Poling, director of the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “This is significant not only in the sense of uncertainty over Taiwan or the South China Sea. It is a sign that the Philippines is engaged in modernizing the alliance and that they understand that a modern alliance means they too have responsibilities.

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The Philippines, once a US territory, has been a treaty ally since 1951. It hosted a massive US presence after World War II, including two large American military facilities overseas – which ended in 1991 when the Philippine Senate asserted The country’s sovereignty was violated, the Americans demanded that the Philippines give up all US bases.

The mutual defense system was further emphasized under the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte, arguably the pro-Beijing and anti-American Philippine president. Duterte also threatened to end the Visiting Forces Agreement that gives legal protection to the US military in the Philippines. But after Austin visited in the summer of 2021 and in the face of increasing Chinese aggression in Philippine waters, Duterte withdrew the threat.

Marcos’ election last year continued the warming trend — the first foreign leader to call to congratulate President Biden. But the deepening of the alliance, officials say, is rooted in a recognition that the region is becoming an increasingly dangerous place. For example, in November, the Chinese Coast Guard forcibly seized the wreckage of a Chinese rocket being towed by the Philippine Navy near an island under Philippine control. In December, Chinese military vessels were spotted circling the West Philippine Sea. And just last week Chinese ships chased Philippine fishermen away from reefs where the Philippines has exclusive fishing rights.

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China is the Philippines’ largest trading partner and the Marcos family has historic ties with China: Marcos visited China with his father in 1974, The then President Ferdinand E. Marcos and his mother Imelda met with Marcos and Chairman Mao Zedong. Nevertheless, Marcos has made it clear that he sees a threat to collectivity. Asked at the Davos Economic Forum in January if the South China Sea issue keeps him up at night, he responded, “It keeps you up at night. It keeps you on the day. This will keep you busy most of the time. “

“In terms of cross-strait tensions, we are at the forefront,” he said, referring to the fact that the Philippines’ northern islands are only 200 miles from Taiwan and are a place where refugees flee. conflict

“When these tensions rise,” Marcos said, including Chinese and American ships, “we are watching as spectators” and if something goes wrong, “we suffer.”

But, he noted, the connection between the United States and the Philippines “remains strong” and the only way to remain strong and relevant is to “evolve.”

Marcos said, “We have security arrangements with the United States and that has come to the fore… because of heightened tensions in our part of the world.”

Marcos made a trip to Beijing in early January in which he raised concerns over the South China Sea. This includes the Chinese Navy and Coast Guard denying Filipino fishermen access to their traditional fishing grounds and the construction of artificial islands in Philippine waters. Although he came away with more than a dozen agreements covering tourism, trade and e-commerce, his Davos statements months later made it clear that the security issue remains.

“The world has changed,” he said. “Now we’re living in the context of all these other forces that are coming out, especially around the region, around the South China Sea.”

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The United States has access to four air force bases and one military base in the Philippines under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. EDCA allows the US military to operate in agreed locations on a rotational basis. None of the five bases are north of Luzon.

In November, Vice President Harris became the highest-ranking US official to visit the Philippine territory of Palawan, a slender but roughly 200-mile-long island bordering the contested South China Sea. During her visit, a senior administration official noted that the two allies had identified new places to “deepen our work together.”

That work will extend to security cooperation exercises, joint training activities and allow the United States to provide more rapid humanitarian relief in natural disasters, the official said. EDCA also provides economic benefits, with the United States investing more than $82 million in existing bases, with most contracts supporting projects going to Philippine companies, the official said.

The expected EDCA expansion follows an announcement earlier this month that the US Marine Corps will revamp the unit in Okinawa by 2025 to better fight on the harsh, remote islands. Advanced capabilities such as anti-ship missiles that could be fired at Chinese ships in the event of a Taiwan conflict.

For more than a decade, the Pentagon has sought to disperse its presence across island chains in the western Pacific, making it difficult for China to focus its attacks on US bases. But it will help countries like the Philippines ensure that China does not charge through its archipelago to attack Taiwan or Japan, said Michael J., chief executive of the United States Studies Center at the University of Sydney.

Green, who handled Asian issues in the White House under President George W. Bush, said, “The Philippines is not signing on to US war plans in return.” “But it’s encouraging for allies like the United States and Japan and a sign of coercive costs for China.”


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