- Philippines, US agree to add four destinations under EDCA
- The agreement comes amid tensions in the South China Sea over Taiwan
- EDCA allows US access to Philippine military bases
MANILA, Feb 2 (Reuters) – The Philippines has granted the United States expanded access to its military bases, its 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.
Washington will be granted access to four more sites under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Philippine Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez said in a joint press conference.
Austin, who was in the Philippines for the talks, described Manila’s decision as a “huge deal” for him and his ally as Washington seeks to expand its security options in the country as part of efforts to block any moves by China against self-ruled Taiwan. Reaffirmed their countries’ commitment to strengthening the alliance.
“It makes our two democracies more secure and helps sustain a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Austin said, following US Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to the Philippines in November, which included a stop in Palawan, southern China. the 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.
The additional locations under EDCA bring the number of military bases the United States has access to to nine, and Washington announced more than $82 million in infrastructure investments at existing bases.
The EDCA allows US access to Philippine military bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and the creation of facilities such as runways, fuel storage and military housing, but not permanent presence.
Austin and Galvez did not say where the new locations would be. A former Philippine military chief had said the United States had requested access to bases on the northern mainland of Luzon and Palawan Island, the Philippines’ closest territory to Taiwan, which faces the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
There was no immediate comment from the Chinese Embassy in Manila.
Outside the army headquarters, dozens of protesters chanted anti-US slogans and called for the scrapping of the EDCA, protesting the continued military presence in the US.
Austin, who met Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the Presidential Palace on Thursday, assured the Southeast Asian leader that “we are ready to help you in any way we can.”
Relations between the former colony of the United States and the Philippines have been strained by predecessor Rodrigo Duterte’s comments toward China, his famous anti-American rhetoric and threats to downgrade their military ties.
But Marcos has met US President Joe Biden twice since his landslide victory in last year’s election and reiterated that he cannot see a future for his country without his longtime treaty partner.
“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 Editing by Ed Davis and Jerry Doyle
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