US expands access to Philippine military bases to contain China

Under a 2014 agreement, the US can rotate small military contingents in four more outposts in order to block China’s expansion in the South China Sea and south of Taiwan. However, it will be hard for the Philippines to be openly anti-China.


Manila (AsiaNews) – The United States has signed an agreement with the Philippines to access four more Philippine military bases to boost its strategy to contain China in the South China Sea and the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.

The official announcement came today at the end of a meeting in Manila between Philippine President Ferdinand Marco Jr and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin. The two sides did not name the four military bases.

Three are expected to be on Luzon, an island south of the homonymous  strait that divides the Philippines from Taiwan, a strategic point in case of a conflict between China and Taiwan. A fourth base should be on Palawan Island.

Since the 1990s, the US has no military bases in the Philippines, but a 1999 agreement allows US can troops to take part in military exercises in Philippine territory.

A 2014 military cooperation agreement gives US forces rotating access to up to five Philippine military bases where it can store weapons, as long as they are not nuclear, something not welcomed in the country.

According to the US, the expansion of its military presence will "allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines, and respond to other shared challenges", the latter likely being a veiled reference to China’s geopolitical rise in the region.

Along with Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and, to a lesser extent, Indonesia, the Philippines has challenged China's territorial claims in the South China Sea. For the past few years, Beijing has militarised some islets and coral reefs in the vast body of water.

To contain China’s expansion, US warships regularly patrol near these military outposts, one of which is located within Manila's exclusive economic zone.

Access to bases in northern Philippines will allow small US contingents to monitor the movements of Chinese Navy ships in the Luzon Strait, south of Taiwan.

Analysts note that Washington would like to deploy missiles in the area to block the passage of Chinese warships in the event of a crisis.

It is doubtful that President Marcos Jr. wants to openly counter China. Like all Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines is seeking a balance between the two powers: US military strength to counter any Chinese excesses, and winks at China for economic gain.

In a statement, China's foreign ministry said that the new military agreement between the United States and the Philippines will undermine regional stability and heighten tensions.