• Philippines, US agree to add four locations under EDCA
  • Agreement comes about amid tensions in the South China Sea, over Taiwan
  • EDCA allows US access to Philippine military bases

MANILA, Feb. 2 (Reuters) – The Philippines has granted the United States expanded access to its military bases, its defense chiefs said on Thursday, amid mounting concerns over China’s rising assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea and tensions over the self-governed Taiwan.

Washington would gain access to four additional sites under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Philippine Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez said at a joint news conference.

Austin, who was in the Philippines for talks as Washington tries to expand its security options in the country as part of efforts to deter any move by China against self-governing Taiwan, described Manila’s decision as a “big deal” as he and its counterpart reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen their countries’ alliance.

“Our alliance makes both of our democracies more secure and helps maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Austin, whose visit follows US Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to the Philippines in November, which included a visit to Palawan in South China. Sea.

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“We discussed concrete measures to address destabilizing activities in the waters surrounding the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea, and we remain committed to strengthening our mutual capabilities to resist armed attacks,” Austin said.

“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 defend its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.

The additional locations under the EDCA bring the number of military bases the United States would have access to to nine, and Washington had announced it would allocate more than $82 million for infrastructure investments at the existing locations.

The EDCA allows the US access to Philippine military bases for joint training, equipment pre-positioning, and the construction of facilities such as airstrips, fuel storage, and military housing, but not a permanent presence.

Austin and Galvez have not said where the new locations would be. The former Philippine military chief had said the United States had requested access to bases on the northern landmass of Luzon, the closest part of the Philippines to Taiwan, and on Palawan Island, opposite the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

There was no direct comment from the Chinese embassy in Manila.

Outside the military headquarters, dozens of protesters opposed to maintaining a United States military presence in the country chanted anti-American slogans and called for the abolition of the EDCA.

Before meeting his counterpart, Austin met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr at the Presidential Palace on Thursday, where he assured the Southeast Asian leader, “We are ready to assist you in any way we can”.

Ties between the United States and the Philippines, a former colony, have soured over predecessor Rodrigo Duterte’s overtures to China, his famously anti-American rhetoric, and threats to sour their military ties.

But Marcos has met with US President Joe Biden twice since his landslide election victory last year and reiterated that he sees no future for his country without his longtime ally.

“I’ve always said, it seems to me, that the future of the Philippines and for that matter the Asia Pacific will always have to involve the United States,” Marcos told Austin.

Reporting by Karen Lema Edited by Ed Davies and Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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