A new security treaty between the US and the Philippines to be signed Monday isn’t aimed at containing China’s military might, but is rather ensuring stability in the Asia-Pacific region, American officials said.
The Enhanced Defense Cooperation agreement would permit the
enhanced “rotational presence” of US forces in the Philippines.
The American military will also be able to train and conduct exercises with their Philippine counterparts for maritime security, disaster assistance and humanitarian aid.
It would also allow US troops, aircraft and ships to pass through the Philippines and see the creation of storages facilities for American equipment.
“We are not doing this because of China. We are doing this because we have a longstanding alliance partner [the Philippines]. They are interested in stepping up our military-to-military,” Evan Medeiros, Obama’s top advisor on Asia, was cited as saying by AFP.
Filipino negotiators previously said that the deal wouldn’t allow the US to establish military bases in the country, or position nuclear weapons there.
But Medeiros still called the document “the most significant agreement that we [the US] have concluded with the Philippines in decades.”
The treaty runs for 10 years, which is shorter than Washington was originally asking for, but it can be prolonged if both sides see it necessary, two senior US officials told Reuters.
Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US ambassador Philip Goldberg will put their signatures under the deal on April 28, just a few hours before President Barack Obama arrives to the Philippine capital, Manila, as part of his week-long Asian tour.
The United States is expected to gradually deploy combat ships, a squadron of F18s or F16s and maritime surveillance aircraft to the Philippines under the deal, a military source told Reuters.
“We are considering bases in Northern Luzon like Clark and Subic, and Fort Magsaysay, to accommodate the US forces. We will set aside space in those bases for their troops," the source said.
Clark and Subic were the two military bases maintained by the US military northwest of Manila until 1992, when the Philippines Senate voted to evict American troops from the country.
However, eight years later, the Senate approved an agreement allowing for temporary visits by US forces and joint military drills between the armies of the two states.
A total of 149 US Navy vessels visited the Philippines last year – almost a two-fold increase in comparison with 68 ships in 2012.
Manila has been seeking greater military and diplomatic support from the US in recent years, due to a territorial dispute with China.
Beijing, which claims most of the resources-rich South China Sea, has seized control of Scarborough Shoal in 2012 despite the island being situated far closer to the Filipino landmass than the Chinese.
The Chinese refused to participate in the UN tribunal on the validity of its territorial claims, which the Philippines imitated, saying that the move “seriously damaged” bilateral relations.
In March, Chinese vessels tried to block ships, which were bringing supplies to a Philippine military outpost on a tiny reef also claimed by Beijing.