Bound by a mutual defense treaty dating from 1951, the United States and the Philippines agreed on Thursday, February 2, during the visit of the United States Secretary of State for Defense, Lloyd Austin, to expand access to the U.S. military at Philippine military bases – now limited to five – to four new locations. This decision, under discussion for several months between Manila and Washington, changes the scale of the American commitment to its ally. “This is an opportunity to increase our efficiency, increase interoperability, Mr. Austin told the American press during his visit to the Philippines, which began on Tuesday. These are not permanent bases, but it is very important. Very important. »
This extension of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the format which endorsed from 2014, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, the use ” non permanent “ by the United States armed forces and “jointly with the Philippine Army” of five modernized Philippine bases, should facilitate the upscaling of the American defense system against China, in the event of a crisis in Taiwan.
The names of the new sites have not been revealed at this stage, but Philippine army officials have mentioned bases in the provinces of Cagayan and Isabela, in the north of the large island of Luzon, itself located 250 miles from Taiwan. Access to a naval base on the island of Palawan, where the Americans are already rotating on an air site, is also expected. Palawan is the long island in the west of the Philippines facing the Spratly archipelago, where China has since 2013 turned seven reefs and atolls into naval and air bases.
“Marcos played his cards well”
A former territory of the American Commonwealth, which became independent in 1946, the Philippines housed American military bases until the withdrawal of the marines in 1992, against a background of distrust of the United States following the Marcos dictatorship (1972 -1986). China’s strategic consolidation in the South China Sea, where Beijing has moved into what the Philippines considers its special economic zone, has been a game-changer.
Manila filed a complaint with the Permanent Court of Arbitration (CPA) in The Hague, which ruled in its favor in 2016. However, Beijing has never recognized this decision, and continued actions in the “grey zone”, it is that is, involving non-military actors, such as fishing militias and coastguards, off the coast of the Philippines. After the parenthesis of the populist Rodrigo Duterte (2016-2022), follower at the beginning of his mandate of a rapprochement between China and a “divorce with the United States” which fizzled, “Bongbong” Marcos, the son of dictator Marcos elected in May 2022, has largely reinvested in the strategic relationship with Washington.
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