The Philippines has given the United States expanded access to its military bases, the countries announced on Thursday.
The move comes amid mounting concern over China’s increasing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea and tensions over self-ruled Taiwan.
Statements from the defence ministries of both countries said Washington would be given access to four more locations under an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) dating back to 2014.
The US had allocated more than $82 million toward infrastructure investments at the existing five sites under the EDCA, the statements said.
EDCA allows US access to Philippine military bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and the building of facilities such as runways, fuel storage and military housing, but not a permanent presence.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Manila for talks as Washington seeks to extend its security options in the Philippines as part of efforts to deter any move by China against self-ruled Taiwan.
The statements did not specify where the new locations would be. The BBC noted that the US already had access to five bases and it believes three of the four new locations where it will have access are on Luzon, the main island in the north of the Philippine archipelago – at Cagayan, Zambales and Isabela, while the fourth is in Palawan.
Experts have suggested the US does not want bases like it previous had, but rather just places where it can monitor China’s activities in the South China Sea. China has built 10 island bases over the past nine years, including one at Mischief Reef, inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone or EEZ.
The former Philippine military chief said previously the US had requested access to bases on the northern land mass of Luzon, the closest part of the Philippines to Taiwan, and on the island of Palawan, facing the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Austin also met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr at the presidential palace on Thursday before meeting with his counterpart Carlito Galvez.
His visit follows a three-day trip by US Vice President Kamala Harris to the Philippines in November which included a stop on Palawan.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard