MANILA/KUALA LUMPUR: The United States and the Philippines will sign a new 10-year security pact today that will allow for a larger US military presence as it struggles to raise its defence capabilities amid territorial disputes with China.
The agreement, which establishes a framework for a beefed-up rotation of US troops, ship and warplanes through the Philippines, will be formally sealed just hours before US President Barack Obama arrives on a two-day visit to Manila, US and Philippine officials said.
White House officials touted the deal as part of a “rebalancing” of US resources toward the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region.
The Philippines will be Obama’s final stop on a four-country tour aimed at showing sometimes sceptical allies he is serious about the strategic shift.
It comes as China has strengthened its maritime presence in disputed areas in the South China Sea after seizing control of Scarborough Shoal in 2012.
US officials accompanying Obama on a visit to Malaysia insisted the deal was aimed at bringing greater stability to the region, not at countering Beijing’s growing military assertiveness. “We’re not doing this because of China,” Evan Medeiros, Obama’s top Asia adviser, told reporters.
The accord allows for enhanced “rotational presence” of US forces in the country — but not a return of US military bases, US officials said. It will allow US forces to train and conduct exercises with Philippine forces for maritime security, disaster assistance and humanitarian aid, the officials said.
The White House said the pact did not specify how many US military assets can be deployed but established a legal basis for deciding on a mission-by-mission basis.
Still, Manila’s acceptance of an increased US military presence, a politically sensitive issue in the independent-minded archipelago nation, reveals the scale of Philippine anxiety over China.
The Philippine Senate voted to evict the US military from their bases in 1991, ending 94 years of American military presence in the Philippines, and has only gradually allowed the return of US forces for limited operations.
The Enhanced Defence Cooperation agreement will run for 10 years, shorter than the United States was originally asking for, two Philippine government officials said, asking for anonymity due to lack of authority to reveal details.
But the deal is renewable depending on the needs of the two oldest allies in the Asia-Pacific region, one source said.