US Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin is in the Philippines for dialogues about deploying U.S. forces and weapons in more Philippine military camps to ramp up deterrence against China’s aggressive actions toward Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea.
According to regional Philippine Military Commander, Lt. Gen. Roy Galido, Austin visited southern Zamboanga city and met Filipino generals and a small contingent of U.S. counterterrorism forces based in a local military camp.
The Philippines is Washington’s oldest treaty ally in Asia and a key front in the U.S. battle against terrorism.
The more than 100 U.S. military personnel have provided intelligence and combat advice for years to Filipino troops battling a decades-long Muslim insurrection, which has considerably lessened but remains a key threat.
More recently, U.S. forces have intensified and broadened joint training which focuses on combat readiness and disaster response with Filipino troops in the Southeast Asian nation’s western coast, which faces the South China Sea, and in its northern Luzon region across the sea from the Taiwan Strait.
American forces have been granted access to five Philippine military camps, where they could rotate indefinitely under a 2014 defense pact called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
In October, 2022, the U.S. sought access for a larger number of its forces and weapons in an additional five military camps, mostly in the north.
That request would be high on the agenda in Austin’s meetings, according to Philippine officials.
“The visit of Secretary Austin definitely, obviously will have to do with many of the ongoing discussions on the EDCA sites,” Philippine Ambassador to Washington, Jose Romualdez disclosed at a news briefing.
Also, Romualdez divulged that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is slated to hold talks on Thursday, February 2, 2023 with his Philippine counterpart, Carlito Galvez Jr., and National Security Adviser, Eduardo Ano.
Austin will separately call on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June and has since taken steps to enhance relations with Washington.
The U.S. defense Chief is the latest senior official to visit the Philippines after Vice President Kamala Harris in November, 2022, in a sign of warming ties after a strained period under President Marcos’s predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte had maintained good ties with China and Russia and at one point threatened to sever ties with Washington, kick visiting American forces out and annul a major defense pact.
Cooperation With U.S Needed To Deter Escalation Of Tensions
Philippine Ambassador to Washington, Jose Romualdez has opined that the Philippines needed to cooperate with Washington to deter any escalation of tensions between China and self-ruled Taiwan, not only because of the treaty alliance but to help prevent a major conflict.
“We’re in a Catch-22 situation. If China makes a move on Taiwan militarily, we’ll be affected and all ASEAN region, but mostly us, Japan and South Korea,” Romualdez told reporters, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the 10-nation regional bloc that includes the Philippines.
The Philippines and ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, along with Taiwan, have been locked in increasingly tense territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.
The U.S. has been regarded as a crucial counterweight to China in the region and has pledged to come to the defense of the Philippines if Filipino forces, ships or aircraft come under attack in the contested waters.
The Philippines used to host two of the largest U.S. Navy and Air Force bases outside the American mainland.
The bases were shut down in the early 1990s after the Philippine Senate rejected an extension, but American forces returned for large-scale combat exercises with Filipino troops under a 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement.
The Philippine Constitution prohibits the permanent basing of foreign troops and their involvement in local combat.
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