US secures deal on bases to complete arc around China
Washington: The US has secured access to four additional military bases in the Philippines – a key bit of real estate which would offer a front seat to monitor the Chinese in the South China Sea and around Taiwan.
With this deal, Washington has stitched the gap in the arc of US alliances stretching from South Korea and Japan in the north to Australia in the south.
The missing link had been the Philippines, which borders two of the biggest potential flashpoints, Taiwan and the South China Sea, or the West Philippine Sea as Manila insists on calling it.
The US already had limited access to five sites under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) – the new additions and expanded access, according to a statement from Washington, will “allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines, and respond to other shared challenges”, likely a veiled reference to countering China in the region.
The statement came after Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin met Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr in Manila on Thursday.
The US hasn’t said where the new bases are but three of the bases could be on Luzon, an island on the northern edge of the Philippines, the only large piece of land close to Taiwan – if you don’t count China.
The deal, which in part reverses the US’ departure from their former colony more than 30 years ago, is no small matter.
“There is no contingency in the South China Sea that does not require access to the Philippines,” says Gregory B Poling, director of the Southeast Asia programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“The US is not looking for permanent bases. It’s about places, not bases.”
That is, it is seeking access to places where “light and flexible” operations involving supplies and surveillance can be run as and when needed, rather than bases where large numbers of troops will be stationed.
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