Under an agreement announced during US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to Manila on Thursday, the US military will gain access to four more bases in the Philippines.
Furthermore, the two allies announced that projects at five bases already covered by the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) were nearing completion. The EDCA allows the US to rotate troops to specific floors and construct facilities for use by both countries.
“The EDCA is a critical pillar of the US-Philippines alliance, supporting combined training, exercises, and interoperability between our forces. The EDCA’s expansion will “make our alliance stronger and more resilient, as well as accelerate the modernization of our combined military capabilities,” according to a joint announcement.
Overview of Scenario
The location of the bases to which the US military will gain new access was not disclosed in the announcement. They only stated that the recent locations “will allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines, as well as respond to other shared challenges,” without elaborating.
Several US defense officials told CNN earlier this week that Washington was looking to expand its access to Philippine bases with an eye toward China as part of an ongoing shift in Indo-Pacific force posture.
In addition, the Marine Corps opened a new base on Guam, a strategically important US island east of the Philippines, last week. Camp Blaz is the first new Marine base in 70 years and will eventually house 5,000 Marines.
Increased access to military bases in the Philippines would provide the US military with a strategic foothold on the south-eastern edge of the South China Sea, just 200 miles south of Taiwan, the democratically ruled island of 24 million people that the Chinese Communist Party claims as part of its sovereign territory despite never having possessed it.
US Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines in November to discuss expanded US base access with newly elected President Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jr. According to some experts, her visit sent a clear message to Beijing that the Philippines is moving closer to the US, reversing the trend started by the previous president, Rodrigo Duterte.
Aside from the potential expansion of the EDCA, the United States is assisting the Philippines in modernizing its military and has designated it as a pilot country in a maritime domain awareness initiative. In addition, the two countries recently agreed to collaborate on over 500 activities throughout the year.
The Philippines announced earlier this month that 16,000 Philippine and US troops would participate in the annual Balikatan exercise, which will take place from April 24 to April 27.
The exercise will include “a live fire exercise to test the newly acquired weapons system of the United States and the Philippines,” according to a statement issued by the state-run Philippine News Agency.