Philippines may allow greater U.S. presence in latest reaction to China’s rise
Two decades after evicting U.S. forces from their biggest base in the Pacific, the Philippines is in talks with the Obama administration about expanding the American military presence in the island nation, the latest in a series of strategic moves aimed at China.
Although negotiations are in the early stages, officials from both governments said they are favorably inclined toward a deal. They are scheduled to intensify their discussions Thursday and Friday in Washington prior to higher-level meetings in March. If an arrangement is reached, it would follow other recent agreements to base thousands of U.S. Marines in northern Australia and station Navy warships in Singapore.
President Barack Obama addressed the Australian Parliament in November and vowed to expand U.S. influence in the Asia-Pacific region even as he reduces defense spending and winds down two wars. (Nov. 16, 2011)
Among the options under consideration are operating Navy ships from the Philippines, deploying troops on a rotational basis and staging more frequent joint exercises. Under each of the scenarios, U.S. forces would effectively serve as guests at existing foreign bases.
The sudden rush by many in the Pacific region to embrace Washington is a direct reaction to China’s rise as a military power and its assertiveness in staking claims to disputed territories, such as the energy-rich South China Sea.
“We can point to other countries: Australia, Japan, Singapore,” said a senior Philippine official involved in the talks, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the confidentiality of the deliberations. “We’re not the only one doing this, and for good reason. We all want to see a peaceful and stable region. Nobody wants to have to face China or confront China.”
The strategic talks with the Philippines are in addition to feelers the Obama administration has put out to other Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand, about the potential for bolstering military partnerships.
The Pentagon already has about 600 Special Operations Forces members in the Philippines, where they advise local troops in their fight with rebels affiliated with al-Qaeda. But the talks underway between Manila and Washington potentially involve a much more extensive partnership.