UPDATE: This piece has been updated to reflect new information regarding the expanded military deal between the US and the Philippines.
The U.S. and the Philippines agreed Thursday to allow the U.S. military expanded presence on the island’s military bases as both countries eye China’s increasing threat to stability in the Pacific region, according to a statement.
The deal upgrades access for units of the U.S. armed forces to Philippine military bases and include enhanced cooperation on a variety of security issues, such as rapid natural disaster response, The Washington Post originally reported Monday, citing U.S. and Philippine officials. Although the Pentagon in a press release did not state which bases feature in the deal, two of the potential sites under consideration lie on the northern Philippine island of Luzon, which analysts told the Post could serve as strategic bases from which to launch counter-China operations in the event of a contingency in the South China Sea — including an invasion of Taiwan.
Increased military cooperation “bodes well for our defense posture” but “is not aimed at any particular country,” a Philippine defense official told the Post. The official said a deal was “more or less” worked out earlier this week but would be finalized when Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Philippine acting defense secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. met in Manila. (RELATED: ‘Setting The Theater’: US, Allies Are Preparing For Conflict In The Pacific)
The final agreement established four new locations in “strategic areas of the country” and allocated an additional $82 million toward infrastructure improvements at five existing sites, according to the press release.
U.S. and Philippine officials pored over possible locations in recent months, and at least two have been agreed upon, a State Department official told the Post.
Under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, the U.S. military established a rotational presence on four air bases and one army base in the Philippines, but none of the bases are on the northern end of Luzon, according to the Post.
The move comes as the U.S. has embarked on a larger restructuring of military presence in the Pacific, including opening a new Marine Corps base on Guam and swapping out Marines in Okinawa, Japan, for more mobile units heavily armed with missiles that can attack Chinese ships. Changes could help the U.S. mount a swifter, more effective response in the event of a conflict.
The Philippines has closely watched China’s increasing aggression against Taiwan and in the West Philippine Sea, the official said to the Post. “We’ve already got incursions from multiple countries and the tensions are still expected to rise,” he said.
The president “realizes the dynamics of the region at the moment and that the Philippines really needs to step up,” the official added, according to the Post. Marcos raised concerns about Beijing’s building of artificial islands in Philippine waters and denying fishermen access to traditional waters during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang earlier in January.
The Pentagon and the Philippine Embassy in the U.S. did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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