- Philippines, US agrees to add four sites under EDCA
- The agreement comes amid a dispute in the South China Sea over Taiwan
- EDCA allows US access to Philippine military bases
MANILA, Feb 2 (Reuters) – The Philippines has given the United States access to its military bases, its defense chief said on Thursday, amid growing concerns over growing ambitions by China in the South China Sea disputes and tensions over Taiwan.
Washington will gain access to four more sites under the Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in 2014, said US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Philippine Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez during a press conference.
Austin, who was in the Philippines for talks as Washington seeks to expand its security options in the country as part of efforts to deter any moves by China against self-ruled Taiwan, described the Manila’s decision to be “important” because he and his friends reaffirmed their determination to strengthen the unity of their country.
“Our partnership makes democracy safer and helps support a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Austin, whose visit followed US Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to the Philippines in November. , which included a stop in Palawan in southern China. Sea.
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“We have discussed concrete actions to address destructive activities in the waters surrounding the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea, and we remain committed to strengthening our capabilities to counter armed attacks, Austin said.
“This is just one part of our efforts to renew our cooperation. And these efforts are very important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegal claims in the Sea Western Philippines,” he added.
The additional sites under EDCA bring to nine the number of military bases the United States has access to, and Washington has announced that it has earmarked more than $82 million for infrastructure investments at the sites. there is.
EDCA allows the United States to enter Philippine military bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and construction of facilities such as railroads, fuel storage and military housing, but not permanent presence.
Austin and Galvez did not say where the new location would be. A former Philippine military chief said the United States had requested access to bases in northern Luzon, the Philippines’ closest neighbor to Taiwan, and on the island of Palawan. dealing with the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
There was no immediate comment from China’s embassy in Manila.
Outside the military headquarters, dozens of protesters protesting the US military presence in the country chanted anti-US slogans and demanded the repeal of the EDCA.
Before meeting with his counterparts, Austin met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the presidential palace on Thursday, who assured the Southeast Asian leader that “we are ready We will help you in any way we can”.
Ties between the United States and the Philippines, a former colony, have been strained by his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte’s intervention in China, his famous anti-US rhetoric and threats to downgrade military ties. .
But Marcos has met with US President Joe Biden twice since winning last year’s election and has insisted he sees no future for his country without his longtime ally.
“I have always said, like me, the future of the Philippines and in that matter the Asia Pacific must always include the United States,” Marcos told Austin.
Reporting by Karen Lema Editing by Ed Davies and Gerry Doyle
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