WASHINGTON – The top foreign and defence officials of the United States and the Philippines will meet in Washington next week, the US State Department announced on Wednesday, just as the two countries have expanded their defence cooperation agreement.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin will receive Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo and defence chief Carlito Galvez on Tuesday.
The announcement of the meeting of the two longtime allies came after the Philippines on Monday identified four more of its military bases that the United States will get access to under an expansion of the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
The near doubling of EDCA sites was achieved at a time of growing concern over China’s conduct in the South China Sea and tension over self-ruled Taiwan.
The EDCA, signed in 2014 under former US president Barack Obama, allows US access to Philippine bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and building of facilities such as runways, fuel storage and military housing.
The sites named on Monday are the Camilo Osias navy base in Sta Ana and Lal-lo airport, both in Cagayan province, and Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela province and the island of Balabac off Palawan.
The locations are significant, with Isabela and Cagayan facing north towards Taiwan, while Palawan is near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, where China has built artificial islands equipped with runways and missile systems.
The decision of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to expand the US access was made in February, but the announcement of the sites was delayed by opposition from some local government leaders concerned about being caught up in a future conflict between the United States and China. REUTERS