Philippines Agrees to Allow US Broader Access to Military Bases | South China Sea News


The move comes amid concerns about China’s assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea and over self-ruled Taiwan.

The Philippines and the United States have agreed to expand their defense pact, with US troops allowed access to four more military bases in the Southeast Asian nation, according to a joint statement from the defense ministries of the two countries.

The agreement was presented during a visit to Manila by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, during which he held talks to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office last year.

“The Philippines and the United States are proud to announce their plans to accelerate the full implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with an agreement to designate four new agreed sites in strategic areas of the country and significant completion of projects in the existing five agreed sites,” the joint statement said. It was published on the websites of the US Department of Defense and the Philippine Department of Defense.

EDCA is part of a decades-long security alliance between the US and the Philippines and allows US troops to rotate through five Philippine bases, including those near disputed waters.

It also allows the US military to store defense equipment and supplies at these bases.

The statement said the expansion will make the two countries’ alliance “stronger and more resilient” and “accelerate the modernization of our joint military capabilities.”

The statement did not provide details on the new locations, but said they would “enable faster support for humanitarian and climate disasters in the Philippines.” The US has committed more than $82 million for infrastructure investments at the existing five EDCA sites, it added.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr and Lloyd Austin standing next to each other at the Malacanang Palace.  Marcos Jr is wearing a barong, a traditional Filipino shirt, and Austin is wearing a dark suit.  Behind them are the presidential seal and the flags of the two countries
Ties between the Philippines and the United States have warmed since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr took office last year [Jam Sta Rosa/Pool via Reuters]

The expansion comes as China grows more assertive in its claim to the self-governing island of Taiwan, as well as the South China Sea where it claims almost the entire waterway below its controversial nine-dash line. The Philippines, other Southeast Asian countries and Taiwan also have overlapping rights to the sea, which is a major global trade route.

The relationship between the Philippines and the US – longtime allies – was strained under Marcos Jr.’s predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who favored China and threatened to cut ties with Washington and expel US troops.

But ties have warmed under the new administration, with US Vice President Kamala Harris visiting last November.

“This is really the beginning of a new era after a difficult few years,” said Al Jazeera correspondent Barnaby Lo, who is based in Manila.

Tension in disputed seas

While most of the new bases are expected to be in Luzon, the western island of Palawan, facing the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, is also expected to receive an additional base.

A senior US defense official told reporters on Wednesday that the Philippines is under “daily pressure (from China) in ways that are contrary to international law.”

The U.S. goal is to ensure they “have the ability to defend their own sovereignty,” the official said.

The Philippines has often found itself on the front lines of Beijing’s aggressive tactics in the South China Sea, where China’s naval militia has established an almost permanent presence in Manila’s exclusive economic zone.

In 2012, China seized control of Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines after a months-long standoff that began when Manila discovered Chinese fishing boats around the rocky outcroppings.

Tensions rose again in 2021 when the Philippines protested China’s “continued illegal presence and activities” near its islands in the South China Sea.

Beijing has ignored a 2016 international court ruling – in a case brought by the Philippines – that its claim to the South China Sea was baseless.

China also claims democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has not ruled out using force to achieve its goal. Last year, after then-Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited the island, Beijing conducted large-scale military exercises around and across the island.

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