Four more military outposts in the Philippines have been granted to the US, giving it a prime location from which to observe Chinese activity in the South China Sea and near Taiwan.
The agreement closes a vacuum in the US alliance network that stretches from South Korea and Japan in the north to Australia in the south.
The Philippines, which border two of the major possible flashpoints, Taiwan and the South China Sea, had been the missing piece.
The agreement is a significant one since it partially undoes the US’s decision to leave their former colony more than 30 years ago.
Gregory B. Poling, director of the Southeast Asia program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, claims that “there is no scenario in the South China Sea that does not involve access to the Philippines.”
“The United States does not seek out permanent bases. Places, not bases, are the focus.”
According to a statement from Washington, the new additions and expanded access will “allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines, and respond to other shared challenges,” probably a subliminal reference to countering China in the region. The US already had restricted access to five sites under the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
The declaration was made following a meeting on Thursday in Manila between Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Although the US hasn’t revealed the locations of the four sites, three of them may be on Luzon, an island off the northern tip of the Philippines and the only significant landmass close to Taiwan if you exclude China.
The pact was criticized by China, who said that “US activities raise regional tension and threaten regional peace and stability.”
According to a statement from its embassy, “the United States continues to build up military posture in this region out of its personal interests and zero-sum game mentality.”
Today, rather than sites where a big number of troops will be stationed, the US is looking for access to locations where “light and flexible” operations involving supplies and surveillance can be undertaken as and when needed.
In other words, this is not the 1980s again, when the Philippines was the location of two of the biggest US military facilities in Asia, at Clark Field and nearby Subic Bay, and 15,000 US personnel.
The Philippine government finally declared an end in 1991. Sending the former colonial rulers home would strengthen democracy and independence in the Philippines, which had just defeated the despised dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
The Cold War was coming to an end, the Vietnam War was long past, and China was still a military underdog. The Americans returned home in 1992, or at least the most of them did.
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More significantly, China is no longer a military pariah and is knocking on the door of the Philippines. Beijing has been redrawing the map of the South China Sea, or the West Philippine Sea as Manila insists on calling it, as Manila has watched in horror but helpless to stop it. Ten fake island bases have been constructed by China since 2014, one of which is located in Mischief Reef, deep inside the Philippine EEZ.
According to Herman Kraft, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, relations between Manila and Beijing had been devoid of significant issues up to that point.
“The South China Sea was a live and let live scenario. However, they made an attempt to grab control of Scarborough Shoal in 2012. Then, in 2014, work on the islands started. The relationship was altered by China’s land grabbing.”
Jose Cuisia Jr., a former Philippine ambassador to the United States, claims that “we have very limited competence against the challenge from China.”
He claims that China has consistently disregarded its word not to militarize its new bases in the South China Sea.
“These features have been militarized by the Chinese, which puts more of our area under danger. The only country that can stop them is the US. Philippines can’t handle it by themselves.”
But this time, there won’t be tens of thousands of US marines and airmen swarming Olongapo or Angeles City’s brothels once more.
The Philippines’ Olongapo, also known as Olongapo City, is walked through by two U.S. Navy shore patrol officers. Sailors from the U.S. Navy stationed at the nearby U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay frequently traveled to Olongapo.
SOURCE OF IMAGE: GETTY IMAGES
In the 1970s, Olongapo, a city near a US naval base, served as a center for the illicit sex trade.
The legacy of US military abuse and violence in the Philippines continues to be a touchy subject. After their American fathers returned home, an estimated 15,000 children were left with their Filipino mothers.
Renato Reyes, secretary general of the left-leaning New Patriotic Alliance, asserts that there has been inequality in their connection for a very long time. “The social consequences have been imposed on the Philippines. There has been rape, child abuse, and toxic waste in the past.”
Left-wing organizations in the Philippines are adamantly opposed to the US returning.
Although there won’t be as many troops as before, Washington is now requesting access to a number of new positions, some of which face the South China Sea and others Taiwan’s north. There are choices in Cagayan, Zambales, Palawan, and Isabela, according to unofficial reports.
Taiwan is on the first one’s doorstep, the Scarborough Shoal is on the second, and the Spratly Islands are on the third. Any additional US facilities will be housed inside of the current Philippine bases. US forces will arrive on a rotating basis in small groups.
According to Mr. Poling, the objective is to prevent China from extending its territory in the South China Sea while simultaneously giving the US a location to monitor Chinese military activity near Taiwan.
Outside of this partnership, he claims, “The Philippines has no means to deter China.” “From India, it is purchasing BrahMos missiles. The United States wants to use Tomahawk cruise missiles. They can support Chinese boats when combined.”
The Philippines might provide a “rear access region” for US military operations or even a location to evacuate refugees in light of growing concerns of a clash over Taiwan.
Between 150,000 and 200,000 Filipinos live in Taiwan, according to Mr. Poling.
US signs were shown at a rally on February 2, 2023, in front of the military headquarters in Quezon City, a suburb of Manila.
SOURCE OF IMAGE: GETTY IMAGES
Left-wing organizations oppose a US military presence in the Philippines, as seen in the image caption
Professor Kraft warns that Manila is not about to fully join an American coalition to oppose or confront China’s ascent.
“In contrast to Australia and Japan, the Philippines is not directly opposing Chinese interests in the South or East China Sea. The US and President Marcos want excellent relations. But he also seeks favorable relations with China for his own economic benefit.”
Beijing has also stated that it will not permit its relations with its neighbor to be harmed by a new base arrangement between Manila and Washington.
China’s state-run Global Times charged the US with “creating a trap for the Philippines” and “seeking to force the Philippines to the frontline of confrontation with China” in an editorial released in time for the US defense secretary’s arrival in Manila.
According to Mr. Reyes, who considers China to be just as much of a capitalist imperialist force as the US, “We are once again getting caught in the midst.”
The Philippines still adheres to a colonial mindset and views the US as its big brother.