- The Philippines and the US agree to add four locations to the 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 concern over China’s growing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea and tensions over self-ruled Taiwan.
Washington will gain 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 at a joint news conference.
Austin, who was in the Philippines for talks as Washington seeks to expand its security capabilities in the country as part of efforts to deter any move by China against self-ruled Taiwan, described Manila’s decision as a “big deal” as it and his counterpart reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening the union of their countries.
“Our alliance makes both our democracies more secure and helps maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” said Austin, whose visit follows U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to the Philippines in November, which included a stop in Palawan in southern China Sea.
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“We have discussed concrete actions to address destabilizing activities in the waters surrounding the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea, and remain committed to strengthening our overall capacity to counter an armed attack,” Austin said.
“This is only part of our efforts to modernize our union. And these efforts are particularly important as the People’s Republic of China continues to assert its illegal claims in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.
The additional EDCA sites bring the number of military bases to which the United States will have access to nine, and Washington has announced more than $82 million in infrastructure investments at existing sites.
EDCA allows US access to Philippine military bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and construction of facilities such as runways, fuel storage and military housing, but not a permanent presence.
Austin and Galvez did not say where the new locations would be. The former Philippine military chief had said the United States had requested access to bases on the northern landmass of Luzon, the closest part of the Philippines to Taiwan, and on the island of Palawan, which is opposite the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
There was no immediate comment from the Chinese embassy in Manila.
Outside the military headquarters, dozens of protesters opposed to the United States maintaining a military presence in the country chanted anti-American slogans and called for the EDCA to be repealed.
Before meeting his counterpart, Austin met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the presidential palace on Thursday, where he assured the Southeast Asian leader, “we are ready to help you in any way we can.”
Relations between the United States and the Philippines, a former colony, have been strained by predecessor Rodrigo Duterte’s overtures to China, his notorious anti-American rhetoric and threats to downgrade their military ties.
But Marcos has met twice with US President Joe Biden since his landslide election victory last year and reiterated that he cannot see a future for his country without its longtime treaty ally.
“I’ve always said, it seems to me, that the future of the Philippines, and for that matter the Asia-Pacific region, will always have to include the United States,” Marcos told Austin.
Reporting by Karen Lema Editing by Ed Davis and Gerry Doyle
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