PH designates four new US military bases despite China’s objection

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Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration has identified four new military bases where rotating American forces will be stationed indefinitely, including two across the sea from Taiwan.

The move is part of the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the United States, which allows American forces to stay in designated Philippine camps with their defense equipment, except nuclear weapons.

The expansion aims to boost the Philippines’ coastal defense and support the Biden administration’s efforts to strengthen an arc of military alliances in the Indo-Pacific to better counter China, including in any future confrontation over Taiwan. However, the move has infuriated Chinese officials who claim that the new sites provide U.S. forces with a staging ground close to southern China and Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own.

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The two new military areas are in Santa Ana, a Philippine navy base, and Lal-lo, an international airport, both located in northern Cagayan province. The other two military sites are in northern Isabela province and Balabac island in Palawan province, which faces the South China Sea, a key passage for global trade that Beijing claims virtually in its entirety. China and the Philippines, along with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan, have been locked in increasingly tense territorial disputes over the busy and resource-rich South China Sea.

Washington has deployed warships and fighter and surveillance aircraft to patrol the strategic waters to promote freedom of navigation and the rule of law, angering Beijing. In a recent statement, the Chinese Embassy warned that the Philippine government’s security cooperation with Washington “will drag the Philippines into the abyss of geopolitical strife and damage its economic development at the end of the day.”

Philippine officials responded that the decision to allow an expanded American military presence was in the Philippines’ national interest and would boost its ability to respond to natural disasters, suggesting the move was not aimed at China. The Department of National Defense in Manila emphasized that the American military presence was not a re-establishment of U.S. military bases in the Philippines, as opponents have asserted.

The new sites for American forces are “suitable and mutually beneficial” and will “boost the disaster response of the country” as a springboard for humanitarian and relief work during emergencies, according to Marcos’ office.

The U.S. Department of Defense said the new locations “will strengthen the interoperability of the U.S. and Philippine Armed Forces and allow us to respond more seamlessly together to address a range of shared challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.”

However, a Chinese Foreign Ministry delegation expressed its strong opposition to an expanded U.S. military presence in the Philippines in a meeting last month with Philippine officials in Manila and warned of repercussions for regional peace and stability. The long-seething territorial conflicts continue to be a major irritant in Philippine-China relations. Marcos’ administration has filed at least 77 of more than 200 diplomatic protests against China’s increasingly assertive actions in the disputed waters since he took office last year.

The Philippine Constitution prohibits the permanent basing of foreign troops and their involvement in local combat. The 2014 agreement allows visiting American forces to stay in rotating batches in barracks and other buildings they construct within designated Philippine camps with their defense equipment, except nuclear weapons.

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