MANILA, Philippines (AP) – The United States and the Philippines on Thursday announced plans to expand the US military presence in Southeast Asia with access to four more bases as they seek to curb aggression. Of China to Taiwan. And in the disputed South China Sea.
The agreement was reached while US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was in the country for talks on further deployment of US forces and weapons in the Philippine military camp.
In a joint statement between the Philippines and the United States, the two said they had decided to accelerate the full implementation of the Defense Cooperation Agreement called Capacity Building, which aims to support joint training, exercises and inter-operations.
As part of the agreement, the United States has allocated $ 82 million for infrastructure improvements at five current EDCA locations and to expand its military presence to four new locations in the “Strategic Zone of the Nation.”
Austin arrived in the Philippines on Tuesday from South Korea, where he said the United States would increase its deployment of advanced weapons. Such as fighter jets and bombers to the Korean Peninsula to boost joint training with South Korean forces in response to North Korea’s growing nuclear threat.
In the Philippines, Washington’s oldest ally in Asia and a key front in the US fight against terrorism, Austin visited the southern city of Zamboanga and met with Philippine generals and a small group of The U.S. counter-terrorism force is based in a military base in the area, said Philippine Regional Commander Lt. Gen. Roy Galido. More than 100 U.S. military personnel have provided years of intelligence and combat advice to Filipino soldiers who have been battling decades of Muslim insurgency.Which has eased considerably but remains a major threat.
US forces have recently stepped up and expanded joint training, focusing on combat readiness. And disaster response with Philippine troops on the country’s west coast facing the South China Sea and in its northern Luzon region, crossing the sea from the Taiwan Strait.
US forces have been granted access to five Philippine military bases, which they can rotate indefinitely under the 2014 EDCA.
In October, the United States sought access to more troops and weapons in five more military bases, mostly in the north. That proposal will be high on the agenda at the Austin meeting, according to Philippine officials.
“Secretary Austin’s visit will definitely be accompanied by a number of ongoing discussions on the EDCA website,” Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Romualdez told a news conference.
Romualdez said Austin was scheduled to meet Thursday with his Filipino counterpart Carlito Galvez Jr. And National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano. Austin will call separately from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Who took office in June and has since taken steps to boost ties with Washington..
US Secretary of Defense is the latest senior official to visit the Philippines after Vice President Kamala Harris in November In a sign of a warmer relationship after a tense period under Marcos, Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte has strengthened warm relations with China and Russia, and at one point threatened to sever ties with Washington, cancel visits to US forces and cancel a major defense deal.
Romualdez said the Philippines needs to work with Washington to curb escalating tensions between China and Taiwan, which are self-governing, not only because of the treaty alliance, but to help prevent a major conflict.
“We are in a Catch-22 situation,” he said. If China moves militaryly against Taiwan, we will be affected by the whole of ASEAN, but most of us, Japan and South Korea. Blocks that include the Philippines.
The Philippines and ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, along with Taiwan, are embroiled in a tense territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea. The United States is considered a key Chinese opponent in the region and has promised to defend the Philippines. If Philippine forces, ships or aircraft are under attack in competing waters.
The Philippines has hosted two of the largest US naval and air bases outside the United States. The base was closed in the early 1990s after the Philippine Senate rejected the delay, but U.S. forces returned for large-scale combat exercises with the Philippine military under a 1999 visitation agreement.
The Philippine Constitution prohibits the permanent presence of foreign troops and their participation in regional fighting.