Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has announced that four new military bases will be used by United States forces deployed to the Philippines, including a province facing the contentious South China Sea. Last month, the Marcos administration announced it would allow rotating batches of US forces to indefinitely stay in four new Philippine military camps, in addition to the five local bases earlier designated under a 2014 Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement. The new base locations will likely infuriate China as it places US forces in a well-situated staging ground close to southern China and Taiwan.
Philippine government decision-makers face opposition from their own region’s local government leaders who worry that if a conflict arises between the US and China over Taiwan, they could get dragged into the conflict. Nevertheless, President Marcos is reportedly convincing local officials of the importance of expanded US military presence in their areas. The new US military bases will enable the Philippines to defend the eastern side of its largest Luzon Island which is closest to Taiwan. The US has committed $80m to infrastructure investments at the five current bases including the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan; Basa Air Base in Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija; Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu; and Lumbia Air Base in Mindanao.
China has repeatedly accused the US of taking steps to contain the Chinese militarily and of driving a wedge between Beijing and its Asian neighbours such as the Philippines. The Chinese embassy in Manila recently made a statement saying that “creating economic opportunities and jobs through military cooperation is tantamount to quenching thirst with poison and gouging flesh to heal wounds.” The embassy warned Philippines-US cooperation would “seriously endanger regional peace and stability and drag the Philippines into the abyss of geopolitical strife and damage its economic development at the end of the day”.
US and Philippine forces are due to hold one of their largest combat exercises next month called Balikatan, Tagalog for shoulder-to-shoulder.