The US military is seeking to expand its access to four additional bases in the Philippines, one of which is slated to be built in the island province of Palawan, to demonstrate America’s commitment to the rule of law in the South China Sea.
US Officials and Philippine Officials made the announcement on Thursday, February 2, during US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to the country.
“Today, the Philippines and the United States are proud to announce their plans to accelerate the full implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the agreement to designate four new Agreed Locations in strategic areas of the country and the substantial completion of the projects in the existing five Agreed Locations,” a joint readout said.
Washington and Manila was trigerred to fix ties following China’s growing agression to neighboring country Taiwan and its continuos assertiveness towards the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Although the locations of these bases have remained confidential as of this writing, earlier statements from Philippine officials indicated possible locations being considered for access, included Philippine bases in Northern Luzon, near Taiwan, the WPS and Palawan.
It can be recalled that Philippines and US have a decades-old security alliance that includes a mutual defence treaty and a 2014 pact, EDCA, which basically allows US troops to rotate through five Philippine bases, including those near disputed waters. The said treaty also allows for the US military to store defence equipment and supplies on those bases.
According to a report from Agence France-Presse, the fourth US base will reportedly be on the western island of Palawan, facing the Spratly Islands in the hotly contested South China Sea, techincally taking the number of sites to two.
According to a previous report from Stripes, “the Palawan construction is significant because of its proximity to the South China Sea,” according to Carl Baker, executive director of the Pacific Forum think tank in Hawaii.
“China has built its own military bases and placed missiles on artificial islands in the contested waters that are subject to claims by a number of neighboring states, including the Philippines,” it addded.
Baker also said that the Palawan base includes a 9,000-foot World War II-era runway which could potentially be of great use in the future.
“That warehouse could be used to store equipment for surveillance flights,” he said.
It can be recalled that the last US bases in Clark Field and Subic Bay were turned over to the Philippine Government in 1991. Relations between the two countries were strained under former President Rodrigo Duterte, who threatened to cancel the Visiting Forces Agreement years ago, which would have made it far more difficult for US forces to access the Philippines.