MANILA: The U.S. military will have greater access to bases across the Philippines under a new 10-year agreement set to be signed Monday in conjunction with President Barack Obama’s visit, in a move seen as an effort by Washington to counter Chinese aggression in the region.
U.S. and Filipino officials confirmed the deal ahead of Obama’s stop and portrayed it is as a central part of his weeklong Asia tour.
The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement would give American forces temporary access to selected military camps and allow them to preposition fighter jets and ships.
It is to be signed at the main military camp in the Philippine capital, Manila, as Obama arrives on the last leg of a four-country Asian tour, following stops in Japan, South Korea and Malaysia.
A Philippine government primer on the defense accord that was seen by the Associated Press did not indicate how many U.S. troops would be deployed “on temporary and rotational basis.” It said the number would depend on the scale of joint military activities.
The size and duration of that presence is yet to be worked out with the Philippine government, said Evan Medeiros, senior director for Asian affairs at the White House’s National Security Council.
With its anemic military, the Philippines has struggled to bolster its territorial defense amid China’s increasingly assertive behavior in the disputed South China Sea. This has dovetailed with Washington’s intention to pivot away from years of heavy military engagement in the Middle East to Asia, partly as a counterweight to China’s rising clout.
“The Philippines’ immediate and urgent motivation is to strengthen itself and look for a security shield with its pitiful military,” Manila-based political analyst Ramon Casiple said. “The U.S. is looking for a re-entry to Asia, where its superpower status has been put in doubt.”
The convergence would work to deter China’s increasingly assertive stance in disputed territories, Casiple said. But it could further antagonize Beijing, which sees such an alliance as a U.S. strategy to contain its rise, and encourage China to intensify its massive military buildup, he said.
Hundreds of American military personnel have been deployed in the southern Philippines since 2002 to provide counterterrorism training and serve as advisers to Filipino soldiers, who have battled Muslim militants for decades.
The agreement states that the U.S. will “not establish a permanent military presence or base in the Philippines,” in compliance with Manila’s constitution. A Filipino base commander would have access to all areas that are to be shared with American forces, according to the primer.
There will be “utmost respect for Philippine sovereignty,” it said.