Manila, Feb 2 (EFE).- The Philippines and the United States signed an agreement Thursday that guarantees American troops’ access to four new military bases in “strategic” areas of the archipelago, which would help contain China’s movements around Taiwan and in the South China Sea.
This was announced in a statement released Thursday by the US Defense Department, after a meeting at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila between the US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, visiting the country since Tuesday, and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
The agreement, the text says, “completes” the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Pact, signed in 2014 between the two countries and through which the US could already use five military bases in the Philippine archipelago, key in the quest between Beijing and Washington for influence in the area.
“(The pact) is a key pillar of the US-Philippines alliance, supporting mutual training, (military) exercise development, and interoperability between the two Armed Forces. Its expansion will make our alliance stronger and more resilient, and accelerate the modernization of our capacities,” the text read.
Although the location of the new bases has not yet been revealed, Washington has long been seeking access to facilities, some in the north of the archipelago, which would bring its troops closer to Taiwan, which Beijing considers a “rebel island” and does not rule out invading.
The US would also look to southern bases to improve its position in the South China Sea, claimed almost entirely by Beijing.
Austin, who arrived in Manila after passing through South Korea, told Marcos on Thursday that the US and the Philippines have a “strong relationship” and that the objective of President Joe Biden is to “strengthen it in every possible way.”
Manila is, he said, “an important ally” of Washington.
His visit responds to the manifest intention of the new Philippine president, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos to redirect the focus of Philippine foreign policy, after his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte prioritized the relationship with Beijing.
Duterte even temporarily ended the agreement that, since 1999, allowed the US to maintain a military presence in the archipelago and provided legal cover for American troops to enter the Philippines for joint maneuvers.
In addition, the Philippines and the US maintain other more important security treaties, such as the Mutual Defense Agreement, which dates from 1951. EFE