Tuesday, March 5, 2024

US gains access to military site near Taiwan as Russia responds with its own move

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Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr says four new military bases under a defence agreement with the US will be located in various parts of his country, including in a province facing the South China Sea.

Last month, Mr Marcos granted the US access to four sites — on top of five existing locations under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) — which comes amid China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea and towards Taiwan.

“There are four extra sites scattered around the Philippines — there are some in the north, there are some around Palawan, there are some further south,” Mr Marcos told reporters at the sidelines of the Philippine army’s founding anniversary.

The EDCA 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, but it is not a permanent presence.

The Philippines and the US would announce the locations of the bases soon, he said, adding the sites would boost the country’s ability to defend the “eastern side” of its largest island, Luzon.

Luzon is the closest main Philippine island to self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own.

Luzon is close to Taiwan and within the South China Sea.(Google Maps)

China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday reiterated its stance that the US side was increasing tensions by strengthening its military deployments in the region, adding countries should be “vigilant” and avoid being used by the US.

“We generally believe that defence cooperation between countries should be conducive to regional peace and stability, and should not be aimed at third parties or harm the interests of third parties,” spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters at a regular news briefing.

A former Philippine military chief has publicly said the US had asked for access to bases in Isabela, Zambales and Cagayan, all on the island of Luzon, facing north towards Taiwan, and on Palawan in the south-west, near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

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Philippines proposes joint patrols in South China Sea with US and Australia

‘Emerging threat’

Some leaders of local governments at the potential EDCA sites have opposed Mr Marcos’s decision, worried they would be dragged into a conflict if one arose between the US and China over Taiwan.

But Mr Marcos said his government has discussed with them the importance of the expanded US access and “why it will actually be good for their provinces”.

Washington has committed $US80 million ($120 million) worth of infrastructure investments at the five existing sites — the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Mindanao.

Speaking before Philippine troops, Mr Marcos told them to be vigilant as the external threat to security was becoming more “complex” and “unpredictable”.

“Be vigilant against elements that will undermine our hard-earned peace, our hard-earned stability, continue to improve relations with your counterparts overseas,” he said.

Without giving specifics, Mr Marcos said he was aware of an “emerging threat” to his country’s territory, which he said would require “adjustments in our strategy”.

“The external security environment is becoming more complex. It is becoming more unpredictable,” he said.

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Why Japan is fortifying its small islands. And why is it such a big deal?(James Oaten)

Russia boosts defences near Japan

Meanwhile Russia said on Wednesday that a division of its Bastion coastal defence missile systems had been deployed to Paramushir, one of the Kuril islands in the north Pacific, some of which Japan claims as its territory.

The move is part of a wider strengthening of Russian defences in its vast far eastern regions, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said, partly in response to what he called US efforts to “contain” Russia and China.

He was speaking to Russia’s top army brass a day after President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping cemented their “no limits” partnership at talks in the Kremlin with agreements on deeper energy and military cooperation.

Close up of army general seated in front of Russian flags.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu says the move is partly in response to US efforts to “contain” Russia and China.(Reuters: Russian Defence Ministry)

“To contain Russia and China, the United States is significantly increasing its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, strengthening its political and military links with its allies, continuing to create a new American security architecture in this region,” Mr Shoigu said.

He said the Bastion system would bolster Russian security around the Kuril island chain.

Japan, a close US ally, claims the four southern Kuril islands, which were seized by Soviet forces at the end of World War Two. Japan does not claim Paramushir, one of the northern Kuril islands.

The issue has prevented Moscow and Tokyo ever signing a peace treaty formally ending hostilities.

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