The Philippines has granted the United States expanded access to its military bases, the countries said on Thursday, amid mounting concern over China’s increasing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea and tensions over self-ruled Taiwan.
Washington would be given access to four more locations under an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) dating to 2014, statements from the defence ministries of both countries said.
“The Philippine-U.S. alliance has stood the test of time and remains ironclad. We look forward to the opportunities these new sites will create to expand our cooperation together,” the statements said.
The United States had announced it was allocating more than $82 million toward infrastructure investments at the existing five sites under the EDCA.
The EDCA allows U.S. access to Philippine military bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and the building of facilities such as runways, fuel storage and military housing, but not a permanent presence.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Manila for talks as Washington seeks to extend its security options in the Philippines as part of efforts to deter any move by China against self-ruled Taiwan.
The statements did not specify where the new locations would be. The former Philippine military chief had said the United States had requested access to bases on the northern land mass of Luzon, the closest part of the Philippines to Taiwan, and on the island of Palawan, facing the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
There was no immediate comment from the Chinese Embassy in Manila.
Austin also met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr at the presidential palace on Thursday before meeting with his counterpart, Carlito Galvez, where he assured the Southeast Asian leader “we stand ready to help you in any way we can”.
Marcos, who since his landslide victory in the presidential elections in May has twice met with U.S. President Joe Biden, reiterated he could not see a future for his country without its longtime treaty ally.
“I have always said, it seems to me, the future of the Philippines and for that matter the Asia Pacific will always have to involve the United States,” Marcos told Austin.
Austin’s visit follows a three-day trip by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris to the Philippines in November, which included a stop on Palawan. There, Harris said Washington would stand by the Philippines in the face of intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea.
Outside the military headquarters, dozens of protesters chanting anti-U.S. slogans, called for the EDCA to be junked.