The Philippines, under its new president Ferdinand Marcos Jr, has agreed to provide the United States with expanded access to its military base. The two countries announced the decision on Thursday following the visit of the US Secretary of Defense to the South Asian country.
“Today, 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 the agreement to designate four new Agreed Locations in strategic areas of the country and the substantial completion of the projects in the existing five Agreed Locations,” a joint statement by the Philippines and the United States reads.
Already, under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), between both countries, the United States enjoys the freedom to rotate through five Philippine bases since 2014, including disputed areas with China. The expansion means the US can now rotate through nine military bases, but the four new locations were not mentioned in Thursday’s statement.
A move to counter China
The United States expanding its military presence in the Indo-Pacific region is no doubt a move to counter the growing influence of China. US Defense Secretary Llyod Austin on Thursday did not deny the fact.
“That’s just part of our efforts to modernize our alliance. And these efforts are especially important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea,” Lloyd Austin said at a press conference in Manila, the capital of the Philippines.
In recent years, China has continued to claim ownership of the entire South China Sea. The Philipines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam, are also claiming ownership of the vast waterway, which is home to approximately 11 billion barrels of crude oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The Sea is also a major route for global trade, but the Chinese government believes it owns the entire waters under the controversial nine-dash line.
The increased access to the Philippines’ military base means the United States is getting closer to Taiwan. Its armed forces could now be about 200 miles South of Taiwan. The Communist Party, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, has refused to allow the self-ruled Island to be independently governed. President Biden, on the other hand, said the United States would defend Taiwan should China invade it.
A “selfish” United States
Reacting to Thursday’s military expansion, the Chinese government said it signifies the United States “selfish agenda,” which could lead to “escalated tension in the region” that will endanger the “regional peace and stability.”
“Out of its selfish agenda, the US side has held up to the cold war. Regional countries should remain vigilant about this and avoid being used by the US,” Mao Ning, the spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry, stated on Thursday.
Already, the United States is increasing its military presence in Japan and South Korea. It is also sharing defence technology with India. All these moves are said to be connected with the cold war between the two world powers.
The United States and the Philippines have been longtime allies, but their relationship was strained under former president Rodrigo Duterte, who felt more comfortable in the hands of China and expelled troops of the United States.
Following the inauguration of President Ferdinand Jr as the country’s new leader last year, the United States has managed to negotiate its way into the heart of the government in Manila. Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris visited the Philippines to discuss the expansion of the US military presence in the country. Many analysts believe the visit was a clear message to China that the US has regained its stand in Manila.
In 1951, the United States and the Philippines signed a mutual defence treaty that is still in force to date. No other bilateral treaty alliance involving the United States is older than it is in the region.