U.S. military poised to secure new access to key Philippine bases



The U.S. military is poised to secure expanded access to key bases in the Philippines following a major review of U.S. force posture in Japan — developments that reflect Allied concerns about an increasingly difficult security environment in the region and a desire for alliances with the United States, according to the US and Philippines officials.

While negotiations are still ongoing, an announcement is expected this week when Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin meets in Manila with his counterpart and then President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

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The expansion includes access to Philippine military bases, including likely two on the northern island of Luzon — which analysts say could give U.S. forces a strategic position from which to mount operations in the event of a conflict in Taiwan or the South China Sea . They will also facilitate cooperation on a range of security issues, including faster responses to natural disasters and climate-related events.

Extensive work has been done in the Philippines in recent months to assess and evaluate several sites, and at least two of them have been pinned down, said a State Department official, who, like other officials, spoke on condition of anonymity because she were not authorized to speak on the deliberations.

A Philippine defense official said the additional locations had been “more or less” agreed upon, but would be formalized when the two defense secretaries meet. Assistants from the two offices were he continued to iron out important details in recent days, and at least two of the new locations are in Luzon, he said.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan discussed the matter with his counterpart Eduardo Año earlier this month as part of a White House effort to step up cooperation with Indo-Pacific allies, a US official said.

Increased military cooperation with the United States “speaks well for our defense,” the Philippine official said. But, he stressed, the Philippines’ efforts to bolster its security “are not targeted at any particular country.”

Marcos “realizes the dynamics of the region right now and that the Philippines really needs to step up,” the official said, adding that the president is closely monitoring developments in the Taiwan Strait and in the West Philippine Sea. “We already have incursions from several countries and tensions are expected to increase.”

While expanded base access alone isn’t the main security hub for the region, “it’s a pretty big deal,” said Gregory Poling, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “This is not only important in terms of what it means for a disaster in Taiwan or the South China Sea. This is a signal that the Philippines is making every effort to modernize the alliance and that they understand that a modern alliance also comes with responsibilities.”

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The Philippines, once a US territory, has been a treaty ally since 1951. After World War II, the country hosted a massive U.S. presence, including the two largest U.S. military facilities abroad — a settlement that ended in 1991 when the Philippine Senate claimed the country’s sovereignty was violated, forcing Americans to evacuate all U.S. bases. cede to the Philippines.

The mutual defense arrangement was further emphasized under the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte, arguably the Philippines’ most pro-Beijing and anti-American president ever. Duterte threatened to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement, which provided legal protection for the US military in the Philippines. But after Austin visited in the summer of 2021, and despite rising Chinese aggression in Philippine waters, Duterte backed down on the threat.

Last year’s election to Marcos continued a warming trend — President Biden was the first foreign leader to call to congratulate him. But the deepening of the alliance, officials say, is rooted in recognition that the region is becoming a more dangerous place. For example, in November, the Chinese Coast Guard forcibly seized Chinese missile debris towed by the Philippine Navy near one of the Philippine islands. In December, Chinese militia ships swarmed the West Philippine Sea. And last week, Chinese ships drove Philippine fishermen away from one of the reefs on which the Philippines has exclusive fishing rights.

China is the Philippines’ largest trading partner and the Marcos family has historical ties to China: Marcos visited China in 1974 with his father, then-President Ferdinand E. Marcos, and his mother, Imelda Marcos, and met Chairman Mao Zedong. Nevertheless, Marcos has made it clear that he sees the growing threat. Asked at the Davos Economic Forum in January if the South China Sea issue is keeping him up at night, he replied: “It keeps you up at night. It keeps you up during the day. It keeps you up most of the time .

He also said that “in terms of tensions across the strait, we are right on the front line,” a reference to the fact that the northernmost islands of the Philippines are only about 200 miles from Taiwan and are the most likely place where refugees would flee in a conflict.

Marcos said that “when these tensions rise”, involving Chinese and US ships, “we are watching as bystanders” and if something goes wrong, “we will suffer”.

But, he noted, the bond between the United States and the Philippines has “remained strong,” and that the only way to stay strong and relevant “is to evolve.”

Marcos said: “We have security arrangements with the United States, and that has come to the fore… because of heightened tensions in our part of the world.”

Marcos made a trip to Beijing in early January, where he said he expressed concern about the South China Sea. Those include the Chinese Navy and Coast Guard denying Philippine fishermen access to their traditional fishing grounds, as well as the construction of artificial islands in Philippine waters. Although he got away with more than a dozen agreements on tourism, trade and e-commerce, his comments in Davos later this month make it clear that the security issue is paramount.

“The world has changed,” he said. “Now we’re living within the context of all these other forces coming out, especially in the region, around the South China Sea.”

The United States has access to four air bases and one military base in the Philippines under a 2014 enhanced defense cooperation agreement. EDCA allows the U.S. military to operate at agreed locations on a rotational basis. None of the five bases are in northern Luzon.

In November, Vice President Harris became the top U.S. official to visit the Philippine province of Palawan, a thin but about 200-mile long island bordering the disputed South China Sea. During her visit, a senior government official noted that the two allies had identified new sites “to deepen our work together.”

That work would extend to security cooperation exercises, combined training activities and allow the United States to provide humanitarian assistance more quickly during natural disasters, the official said. EDCA also offers economic benefits, the official said, noting that the United States has invested more than $82 million in existing bases, with most of the contracts to support the projects going to Philippine companies.

The expected expansion of the EDCA follows an announcement earlier this month that the US Marine Corps will be revamping a unit in Okinawa to be more capable of fighting on austere, remote islands by 2025. Under the plan, a new Marine Littoral Regiment would be equipped with advanced capabilities, such as anti-ship missiles that could be fired at Chinese ships in the event of a conflict in Taiwan.

For more than a decade, the Pentagon has been trying to spread its presence across the island chains of the Western Pacific to make it more difficult for China to focus its attacks on US bases. But this also helps countries like the Philippines ensure that China doesn’t storm across their archipelago to attack Taiwan or Japan, said Michael J. Green, CEO of the United States Studies Center at the University of Sydney.

“The Philippines is not necessarily signing up to US war plans,” said Green, who covered Asian issues in the White House under President George W. Bush. “But it’s a big step forward that will be encouraging to the United States and allies like Japan, and a signal to China of the cost of coercion.”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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