The United States and the Philippines announced on Thursday an agreement to expand the American military presence in the country, granting US forces access to four more Philippine military camps, a move that has been criticised by China.
The agreement between Manila and Washington under a 2014 defence pact was made public during the visit to the Philippines by US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin.
The allied nations also said in a joint statement that “substantial” progress has been made in projects at five Philippine military camps, where the US military was earlier granted access by Filipino officials under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, or EDCA. Construction of American facilities are currently underway.
Austin briefly met with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who has taken steps to nurture closer ties with Washington since taking office in June.
After a later meeting with his Philippine counterpart, Defence Minister Carlito Galvez Jr. said Austin's visit symbolised Washington's steadfast commitment to help allies preserve a free Indo-Pacific region.
He told a news conference in Manila that both sides had agreed to deepen bilateral co-operation and support for Philippine defence needs.
“The EDCA is a key pillar of the US-Philippines alliance, which supports combined training, exercises, and interoperability between our forces,” the joint statement said.
It said “the addition of these new EDCA locations will allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines, and respond to other shared challenges.”
No details were immediately given about the agreement, including the location of the four Philippine camps where US forces would be allowed to construct barracks, warehouses and hangars, but Philippine military and defence officials said in November that Washington had sought access to five more local military camps mostly located in the northern island of Luzon.
Two of the additional camps where the US wants to gain access are located near Luzon’s northern tip. Other local camps that would host American forces lie along the Philippine's South China Sea coast.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said in a regular briefing that the move by Manila to grant Washington greater access to military bases hurts regional stability and raises tensions. (AP/Reuters)
Last updated: 2023-02-02 HKT 16:07