With Philippine pact, US steps up efforts to counter China

MANILA, Philippines (AP) – The Philippines said Thursday it had authorized the US military to increase its presence in Southeast Asia, the latest Biden campaign to promote Indo-Pacific military cooperation to counter China, including everything. future struggle in Taiwan.

Thursday’s deal, which gives the US military access to four additional military bases, was announced during a visit by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. He has led efforts to strengthen American security cooperation in Asia in the face of China’s increasing presence in Taiwan. and regional disputes in the South China Sea.

“It’s very difficult,” Austin said at a press conference, noting that the agreement did not mean the reestablishment of a permanent American base in the Philippines.

In a televised conference with his Filipino counterpart, Carlito Galvez Jr., Austin confirmed US military support and said the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which obligates the US and the Philippines to defend each other in major conflicts, “applies to military attacks on our military.” , public vessels or aircraft anywhere in the South China Sea.”

“We discussed specific actions to deal with disruptive events in the water,” Austin said. “This is part of our efforts to modernize our cooperation, and this is very important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegal claims in the West Philippine Sea.”

American leaders have been eager to reshape US foreign policy to better reflect the rise of China as a major military and economic competitor, and effectively countering the long-term threat from North Korea.

The conflict between China and Taiwan will be intense next week when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to meet with the new Chinese Prime Minister, Qin Gang.

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China claims the self-governing island as its territory – to be annexed by force if necessary – and Beijing has sent warships, bombers, fighter jets and support planes into the airspace near Taiwan on a daily basis, raising concerns about a possible blockade. or military action.

The announcement from the Philippines follows the US-Japan announcement on January 11 that the military of the two countries it will be renewing and strengthening their defences, as well as some previous promises of greater military cooperation from their Indo-Pacific partners extending south of Australia.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning responded Thursday by accusing the United States of seeking its “selfish way.”

“The US has followed the Cold War zero-sum-sum mentality and encouraged the deployment of troops in the region,” Mao told reporters at a daily press conference. “This is a situation that is escalating tensions in the region and endangering peace and stability in the region.”

US and Philippine officials also reported that “substantial” operations had taken place at five Philippine military bases, where US troops had been authorized by Philippine officials. American construction of these materials has been going on for years but has been hampered by unknown local problems.

China and the Philippines, along with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, are locked in escalating territorial disputes over the busy and rich South China Sea. Washington has not said anything about the water quality but has sent its warships and fighter jets to patrol what it says promotes freedom of navigation and law but has angered Beijing.

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Austin thanked President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., whom he met briefly in Manila, for allowing the US military to expand its presence in the Philippines, Washington’s oldest ally in Asia.

“I have always said that it seems to me that the future of the Philippines and therefore the Asia-Pacific must always involve the United States because their ties are strong,” Marcos told Austin.

Galvez said there is a need for more dialogue, including with local authorities in the areas where US military equipment will establish a presence at Philippine military bases.

A dozen left-wing activists staged a noisy protest Thursday and burned the US flag outside the main military base where Austin held talks with his Filipino counterpart. Although the two countries are united, left-wing and patriotic groups have been angry and have often protested against the presence of US troops in the old American countryside.

The country was home to the two largest US Navy and Air Force bases outside of America. The base was closed in the early 1990s after the Philippine Congress refused to extend it, but the American military has since returned to conduct large-scale military exercises with the Philippine military.

The Philippine constitution prohibits the regular deployment of foreign troops and their participation in local hostilities. The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement allows US military personnel who come to visit permanently to live in groups around the camps and other buildings they build in the camps established in the Philippines with their defense equipment, except for nuclear weapons.

Philippine military and defense officials said in November that the US had sought access to five military bases, mostly in the northern Philippines in Luzon.

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The two camps that the US wanted to gain access to are located in the province of Cagayan near the northern part of the island of Luzon, across the sea border from Taiwan, the Taiwan Strait and southern China. Other camps that could host American troops are located along the western coast of the country, including the provinces of Palawan and Zambales, which face the South China Sea.

“The relationship between the Philippines and the US has been long-standing and remains unshakable,” the alliance said in a statement. “We look forward to the opportunities these new sites will create to expand our partnership.”

Austin is the latest American official to visit the Philippines after Vice President Kamala Harris visited in November, a sign of the long-term warming under Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte has developed good relations with China and Russia and at one point threatened to cut ties with Washington, withdraw American troops and cancel the Armistice Agreement that allows thousands of American troops to come every year for large-scale military exercises.

“I am confident that we will continue to work together to defend our shared values ​​of freedom, democracy and human dignity,” said Austin. “As you heard me say before, the United States and the Philippines are not mutually exclusive. We are a family.”


Knickmeyer reported from Washington. Associated Press reporters Joeal Calupitan in Manila, Philippines, and Kiko Rosario in Bangkok, Thailand, contributed to this story.


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