The United States and the Philippines have said they want to give the US military access to four more bases in the Philippines. They want to do this to stop China from being more aggressive toward Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea.
In a joint statement, the two countries said they had decided to speed up the full implementation of their so-called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. This agreement is meant to help with training, exercises, and interoperability between the two countries’ military forces.
As part of the agreement, the US has given $US82 million ($115 million) to improve infrastructure at five current EDCA sites and has moved its military presence to four new sites in “strategic areas of the country.”
Austin came to the Philippines from South Korea, where he said that the US would send more advanced weapons like fighter jets and bombers to the Korean Peninsula to improve training with South Korean forces in response to North Korea’s growing nuclear threat.
North Korea said :“On Thursday that it was ready to fight back against the US military moves with the “most overwhelming nuclear force” and that the extra drills with South Korea were pushing tensions to a “extreme red line.”
In the Philippines, which is Washington’s oldest treaty ally in Asia and a key front in the US fight against terrorism, Austin went to southern Zamboanga city and met with Filipino generals and a small group of US counter-terrorism forces based in a nearby military camp, said Lieutenant General Roy Galido, the regional Philippine military commander. Filipino troops have been fighting a Muslim insurgency for decades, which has gotten a lot better but is still a major threat. For years, more than 100 American military personnel have given intelligence and combat advice to Filipino troops.
More recently, US forces and Filipino troops have increased and widened their joint training to focus on combat readiness and disaster response on the country’s western coast, which faces the South China Sea, and in its northern Luzon region, which is across the sea from the Taiwan Strait.
In October, the US tried to get more of its troops and weapons into five more military camps, most of which were in the north. Philippine officials say that this request would be one of the most important things to talk about at Austin’s meetings.
At a news briefing, Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Romualdez said, “The visit of Secretary Austin will have to do with many of the ongoing talks about the EDCA sites.”
Romualdez said that Austin was going to talk with his counterpart in the Philippines, Carlito Galvez Jr., and the National Security Adviser, Eduardo Ano. Austin will also talk to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June and has worked to improve ties with Washington since then.
The US defence chief is the most senior US official to visit the Philippines since Vice President Kamala Harris did so in November. This is a sign that relations are getting better after they were tense when Marcos’s predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, was in power.
Duterte had good relationships with China and Russia, and at one point he threatened to cut ties with Washington, kick out American troops who were there on a visit, and cancel a major defence agreement.
Romualdez said that the Philippines needed to work with the United States to stop any escalation of tensions between China and self-ruled Taiwan. This was important not only because of the treaty alliance, but also because it could help stop a major war.
“We’re stuck in a catch-22. If China makes a military move on Taiwan, it will affect us and the whole ASEAN region, but mostly us, Japan, and South Korea,” Romualdez said, referring to the 10-country group that includes the Philippines.
In the South China Sea, China is fighting with the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam, which are all members of ASEAN, and Taiwan over land claims. People in the area see the US as a key counterweight to China, and the US has promised to help defend the Philippines if their forces, ships, or planes are attacked in the disputed waters.
“In the early 1990s, the Philippine Senate said no to a request to keep the bases open. In 1999, a Visiting Forces Agreement brought American troops back to work with Filipino troops on large-scale combat exercises.”
The Philippine Constitution says that foreign troops can’t be stationed there permanently or fight in local wars.