US is increasing military presence in Philippines as fears over Taiwan mount

American forces were granted access to five Philippine military camps where they could rotate indefinitely under the 2014 EDCA Defense Pact.


In October, the US sought access for a larger number of its forces and weapons in five more military camps, mainly in the north. That demand would be high on the agenda of meetings in Austin, according to Filipino officials.

“Secretary Austin’s visit will definitely and obviously relate to many of the ongoing discussions on the EDCA sites,” Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Romualdez said at a news conference.

Austin was scheduled to hold talks with his Filipino counterpart, Carlito Galvez Jr. and National Security Advisor Eduardo Ano, Romualdez said. Austin will separately become President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. who took office in June and has since taken steps to strengthen ties with Washington.

The US defense chief is the latest senior official to visit the Philippines to warm up ties after a tense period under Marcos’ predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, after Vice President Kamala Harris in November.

Duterte had maintained close ties with China and Russia, at one point threatening to sever ties with Washington, dump American forces abroad, and scrap a major defense pact.

Demonstrators hold banners as they protest Lloyd Austin's visit.

Demonstrators hold banners as they protest Lloyd Austin’s visit. Credit:AP

Romualdez said the Philippines must work with Washington to prevent an escalation in tensions between China and self-governing Taiwan — not just over the treaty alliance, but to prevent a larger conflict.

“We are in a catch 22 situation. If China takes military action against Taiwan, we will be affected – and the entire ASEAN region, but above all we, Japan and South Korea,” Romualdez said, referring to the Association of South-east Asian Nations, the regional bloc of 10 Nations including the Philippines.

The Philippines and ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, along with Taiwan, are locked in increasingly tense territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea. The US is seen as a key counterweight to China in the region and has pledged to defend the Philippines if Philippine forces, ships or planes are attacked in the contested waters.

The Philippines used to be home to two of the US Navy and Air Force’s largest bases outside of the American mainland. The bases closed 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 deployment of foreign troops and their involvement in local fighting.


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Callan Tansill

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