The Philippines will give the United States expanded access to its military bases after the two countries on Thursday offered American forces a strategic base near self-ruled Taiwan on the southeastern edge of the South China Sea.
The newly announced deal will give the US access to four more locations under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) through 2014, allowing for the rotation of troops to a total of nine bases across the Philippines.
The US has stepped up efforts to expand its Indo-Pacific security options in recent months amid growing concerns about China’s aggressive territorial posture across the region.
US Defense Secretary Liad Austin, who visited Manila on Thursday, said the US and the Philippines are committed to strengthening mutual capabilities to counter armed attack.
“This is part of our efforts to modernize our alliance. These efforts are particularly important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegal claims in the West Philippine Sea,” Austin said, referring to China’s increased presence in waters near the Philippines.
Austin did not provide the location of the sites where the US military will gain new access.
Thursday’s announcement follows high-profile US military deals across the region, including plans to share defense technologies with India and plans to send new US Marine units to the Japanese islands.
The US Marine Corps last week opened a new base in Guam, a strategically important US island east of the Philippines. The location, known as Camp Place, is the first new naval base in 70 years and is expected to one day host 5,000 Marines.
Increased access to military bases in the Philippines would put U.S. armed forces less than 200 miles from Taiwan, a democratically ruled island of 24 million that the Chinese Communist Party claims as part of its sovereignty even though it has never controlled it.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has refused to rule out the use of military force to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control, but the Biden administration remains steadfast in its support for the island under the Taiwan Relations Act, under which Washington agrees to cede the island. With a means of self-defense without involving US troops.
In November, the U.S Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines Some experts said his visit to recently elected President Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jr. to discuss expanded U.S. base access sent an ambiguous message to Beijing that the Philippines is moving closer to the United States, reversing the trend under previous President Rodrigo Duterte.
Washington and Manila are bound by a mutual defense treaty signed in 1951 that remains in force, making it the oldest bilateral treaty alliance in the region for the United States.
In addition to the EDCA expansion, the United States is helping the Philippines modernize its military and has included it as a pilot nation in a maritime domain awareness initiative. The two countries recently agreed to hold more than 500 activities together throughout the year.
The Philippines announced earlier this month that 16,000 Filipino and US troops will participate in the annual Poligathon exercise from April 24 to April 27.
The exercise “includes a live-fire exercise to test a newly purchased weapon system in the United States and the Philippines,” an announcement by the state-run Philippine News Agency said.
Formal American relations with the Philippines date back to 1898, when Madrid ceded control of its colony in the Philippines to the United States as part of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War.
The Philippines remained a US territory until July 4, 1946, when Washington granted it independence – but the US military presence remained in the archipelago nation.
The country was home to two of the US military’s largest overseas installations, Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Station, which supported the US war effort in Vietnam in the 1960s and early ’70s.
Both bases were transferred to Philippine control in the 1990s after the 1947 Military Base Agreement between Washington and Manila expired.