In the face of China’s vehement opposition to the Philippines providing the US access to more military bases, Manila has announced that it will not allow the US to store weapons that could be used for defending Taiwan on these facilities, reported SCMP.
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In early 2023, the US and the Philippines announced that the US would be granted access to four more bases under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) terms.
But, China has been critical of the deal, accusing the US of exploiting access to these bases to interfere in the situation across the Taiwan Strait to advance its own geopolitical objectives.
On April 19, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo made it clear that the United States would not be allowed to carry out any operations not permitted under the 2014 agreement.
Manalo stated at a Senate hearing on Wednesday that the EDCA is not intended to target any third country beyond its purpose of supporting the Philippines.
He continued by saying that the government’s primary foreign policy was to be “friends to all” and promised that the security pact would reflect that stance. Additionally, the minister stated that Manila would not permit US forces to refuel, repair, or reload at EDCA installations.
The Philippines recently announced that it would grant the US access to four more bases close to the Taiwan Strait and the contentious South China Sea, raising the total number of military facilities Washington may utilize to nine.
Three of the sites are on the main island of Luzon, near Taiwan, while one is in Palawan province in the South China Sea (SCS).
In recent months, the US has increased efforts to broaden its access to critical military sites in the Indo-Pacific amid growing worries about China’s assertive territorial behavior across the region.
The new outposts will enable the US to shift soldiers between nine bases across the Philippines, including the strategically significant Balabac Island near Chinese installations in the South China Sea.
Growing Tensions Between Philippines & China
According to Manila and Washington, the new locations will primarily be used to respond to natural and man-made disasters in Southeast Asian countries.
However, China has strongly condemned the agreement and alleged that the US is exploiting these bases to intervene in the Taiwan Strait and advance its geopolitical goals.
Ambassador Huang Xilian of China recently expressed concern over the Philippines’ decision to expand US military access, stating that this move has “caused widespread and grave concern among Chinese people.”
Xilian advised the Philippines to firmly oppose any moves towards Taiwanese independence if the country genuinely cares about the welfare of the approximately 150,000 overseas Filipino workers.
Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos responded by announcing on April 19 that he would meet with Beijing’s envoy in Manila to ask for an explanation of his comments about how the Philippines was “stoking the fire” over Taiwan’s independence.
Marcos suggested that the ambassador’s statement may have resulted from miscommunication or lost translation. Following criticisms from lawmakers, China’s embassy in Manila clarified that the ambassador was misquoted.
The Philippines’ strategic location offers significant advantages for the US, providing a crucial point for US military operations that bases cannot match in Okinawa.
With access to key waterways in the South China Sea, the country allows for greater flexibility and engagement for US troops in multiple theaters of operation in Northeast and Southeast Asia.
The recent agreement between the US and the Philippines is in line with other commitments made by the US to Asian countries.
For instance, on January 11, the US pledged to enhance its alliance with Japan to combat the influence of China and North Korea. Experts believe that by deterring Chinese aggression in the region, the US-Philippines deal will also increase the security of Japan and South Korea.
The Taiwan situation is currently the most concerning regarding the risk of escalating regional tension. China’s aggressive behavior towards the island, which has its own government separate from China’s, has created a sense of urgency among neighboring countries and the US to resist China’s actions. According to experts, armed conflict over the island is possible in the near future.