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Philippines expands US military access amid China tensions

February 2, 2023

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, first signed in 2014, allows for US troops to set up temporarily at Philippine military bases to thwart Chinese ambitions.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III meets Philippines President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila
The expanded agreement comes amid China's increased assertiveness in the South China Sea and TaiwanImage: Jam Sta Rosa/REUTERS

The Philippines on Thursday allowed greater US access to its military bases amid mounting geopolitical pressure regarding the South China Sea and Taiwan.

The United States will be given access to four more locations under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, according to statements from both countries' defense ministries.

"The Philippine-US alliance has stood the test of time and remains ironclad. We look forward to the opportunities these new sites will create to expand our cooperation together," the statements said. The US announced another $82 million (€74,5 million) to build infrastructure at the five sites where the US military is already present.

"Our alliance makes both of our democracies more secure and helps uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific," said Austin. "We discussed concrete actions to address destabilising activities in the waters surrounding the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea, and we remain committed to strengthening our mutual capacities to resist armed attack."

Manila refers to waters immediately west of the country as the West Philippine Sea.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to the development by saying it hurts regional stability and increases tensions in the area. 

China, Philippines agree to 'manage differences'

What is EDCA?

The EDCA, an agreement first signed in 2014, allows the US access to Philippine military bases for joint training, positioning equipment and building military infrastructure facilities, such as runways and temporary housing.

The agreement had stalled under former Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte who favored ties to China over the US. Washington and Manila are now trying to mend relations with current President Bongbong Marcos keen to find a new balance in his country's ties to both China and the United States.

The latest agreement with Washington did not specify where the new locations would be. However, the United States had requested access to bases on the northern land mass of Luzon — the closest part of the Philippines to Taiwan — and the Palawan islands, which face the highly disputed South China Sea. 

South China Sea: Fishing on the front line

Frequent visits

The agreement on Thursday was signed after US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin went to Manila, seeking to increase security options to deter China.

Austin's trip follows a three-day visit to Manila by US Vice President Kamala Harris in November, which included a stop on Palawan islands.

The Philippines' Marcos has also met with US President Joe Biden twice since his landslide victory in May.

mk/sms (AFP, Reuters)