US, Philippines strengthen military ties as Marcos visits Pentagon

Update 1: Adds details about defense deal

Manila, May 4 (EFE).- United States defense chief Lloyd Austin has received the president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, at the Pentagon, a visit that strengthened the countries’ renewed military alliance to counter Beijing’s expansionism in the South China Sea.

The meeting, the first in which a foreign head of state has been honorably received at the Pentagon during the tenure of President Joe Biden, comes at a time of particular tension between China and the Philippines.

“We’re more than allies; we’re family. And we share a common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific because a region governed by rules and rights helps provide security and prosperity for our two countries and for the whole region,” Austin said during the meeting with Marcos on Wednesday in Washington, Thursday in Manila.

The US Defense Department published a statement Wednesday outlining the steps both countries will take to strengthen military cooperation, including the exchange of intelligence in real time on “early indicators of threats to peace regional.”

Although the statement does not explicitly allude to China, the initiative comes at a particularly delicate moment in relations between Manila and Beijing,. According to the Philippines, China is increasingly sending more ships into Philippine territorial waters, leading to disagreements and threats of accidents with the Philippine Coast Guard.

China and the Philippines are in a dispute over the sovereignty of several islands and atolls in the resource-rich Spratly Archipelago of the South China Sea, which is almost entirely claimed by Beijing.

Austin said the US would defend the Philippines, with which it signed the Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951, in the event of an attack on its armed forces, including its “Coast Guard vessels, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific, including anywhere in the South China Sea,” where China and the Philippines have territorial disputes over islands and atolls.

Marcos thanked the defense secretary for the US’ allyship at a time that, he said “unfortunately, is asking for us to meet these new challenges that perhaps we have not faced before.”

The Philippine Coast Guard recently denounced “dangerous maneuvers” by Chinese vessels in Philippine territorial waters around the Spratly Islands.

After Marcos’ visit with Biden on Monday, the US announced the dispatch of patrol boats to strengthen the Philippines’ surveillance capabilities in the South China Sea, and in January Washington promised to jointly patrol these disputed waters with Manila.

In addition, Austin and Marcos discussed the four new Philippines military bases to which the US will have access under the expanded defense pact made on Feb. 3, according to a statement from the Pentagon.

One of the bases is about 400 kilometers from Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing has not ruled out invading and that Washington has promised to defend, and another one near the Spratly archipelago.

China has considered the deal a provocation, and its ambassador to Manila, Huang Xilian, escalated tension on Apr. 14, suggesting that the Philippines should be concerned about the safety of the more than 150,000 Filipinos living in Taiwan. EFE


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