Official: Austin’s visit to bring deal on expanded base access

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to the Philippines this week is expected to bring an announcement of expanded US access to military bases in the country, a senior Philippines official said.

Washington is eager to extend its security options in the Philippines as part of efforts to deter any move by China against self-ruled Taiwan, while Manila wants to bolster defence of its territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea.

US officials have said Washington hopes for an access agreement during Austin’s visit, which began on Tuesday, and that Washington has proposed additional sites under an Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) dating back to 2014.

“There’s a push for another four or five of these EDCA sites,” the senior Philippines official said on Tuesday.

“We are going to have definitely an announcement of some sort. I just don’t know how many would be the final outcome of that.”

The official declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Manila and Washington have a mutual defence treaty and have been discussing US access to four additional bases on the northern land mass of Luzon, the closest part of the Philippines to Taiwan, as well as another on the island of Palawan, facing the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

EDCA allows US access to Philippine bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and building of facilities such as runways, fuel storage and military housing, but not a permanent presence. The US military already has access to five such sites.

The Philippines official said increased US access needed to benefit both countries.

“We don’t want it to be directed to just for the use of the United States purely for their defence capabilities ... it has to be mutually beneficial,” he said.

“And obviously, we want to make sure that no country will see ... anything that we’re doing ... was directed towards any conflict or anything of that sort,” he added.

Manila’s priorities in its agreements with Washington were to boost its defence capabilities and interoperability with US forces and to improve its ability to cope with climate change and natural disasters, the official said. — Reuters

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