Philippines grants US access to more military bases

Dhe United States and the Philippines agreed on Thursday that Washington would be given access to four additional military bases in the territory of its oldest Asian ally. Under the existing military cooperation agreement between the two countries, the United States has had access to five military bases in the island nation, where it can station its own troops on a rotating basis. The existing bases are to be expanded with investments of 82 million dollars.

Majid Sattar

Political correspondent for North America based in Washington.

With its strategic location on the South China Sea and close to Taiwan, the Philippines plays an important role in American deterrence policy in the Indo-Pacific. The alliance between the two countries will help maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said at a press conference with his Filipino counterpart Carlito Galvez.

Beijing immediately criticized the agreement. “This is an act that escalates tensions in the region and threatens regional peace and stability,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning. The United States would continue to strengthen its military engagement in the region with a zero-sum mentality out of self-interest. This is exacerbating tensions in the region. The countries of the region should therefore remain vigilant and avoid being used by the United States.

Approach under the new President

It is still unclear exactly where the new bases for the American armed forces will be built. Galvez said this should first be discussed with the affected regional governments before making a public announcement. It said the United States wanted military deployments in the north of the country, where the Philippines is closest to Taiwan, and on the island of Palawan in the southwest, among other places. From there they would have access to the disputed sea areas around the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. In November, Vice President Kamala Harris sent a signal against China’s expansion policy in the maritime region with a visit to the island.

The Philippines and the United States have grown closer since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office. His predecessor Rodrigo Duterte had opted for closer ties with China. For example, he had temporarily canceled the Visiting Forces Agreement with the USA, which forms one of the basis for the deployment of American troops, but later reversed this decision. Marcos, the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, however, made it clear that he could not imagine his country without the partnership with America.

The Pentagon relies on smaller units

After Marcos took office last summer, the government in Manila began making contingency plans in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. When the then Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, visited Taipei in August last year, Beijing responded with military maneuvers in the Bashi Strait, a waterway that separates the Philippines and Taiwan. At the time, Taipei spoke of an air and sea blockade.

The agreement with Manila is intended to enable the American armed forces to react quickly and flexibly to security policy developments in the region. The Pentagon is considering using smaller units that could be deployed on remote islands, whether for intelligence monitoring of the region or, in the event of a conflict, for defence. This strategy could be used in both the Philippines and Japan.

With the agreement with Manila, Washington is now also making it clear that, despite the Ukraine war and the immense American military aid to Kyiv, it is not losing sight of its Indo-Pacific strategy, which is intended to counter Chinese efforts to expand its sphere of influence in the region.