MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The U.S. military will get greater access to bases across the Philippines under a 10-year agreement signed Monday in conjunction with President Barack Obama's visit in a deal seen as an effort by Washington to counter Chinese aggression in the region.
U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg and Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin signed the agreement at the main military camp in the capital, Manila, ahead of Obama's stop and portrayed it is as a central part of his weeklong Asia swing.
The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement will give American forces temporary access to selected military camps and allow them to preposition fighter jets and ships.
The deal was signed hours before Obama arrived in Manila on the last leg of a four-country Asian tour, following stops in Japan, South Korea and Malaysia.
Goldberg said the agreement will "promote peace and security in the region," and allow U.S. and Philippine forces to respond faster to disasters and other contingencies.
A Philippine government primer on the defense accord that was seen by The Associated Press did not indicate how many additional U.S. troops would be deployed "on temporary and rotational basis." It said the number would depend on the scale of joint military activities to be held in the camps.
The size and duration of that presence has to be worked out with the Philippine government, said Evan Medeiros, senior director for Asian affairs at the White House's National Security Council.
Medeiros declined to say which places are being considered under the agreement, but said the long-shuttered U.S. facility at Subic Bay could be one of the locations.
The defense accord will help the allies achieve different goals.
With its anemic military, the Philippines has struggled to bolster its territorial defense amid China's increasingly assertive behavior in the disputed South China Sea.
Manila's efforts have dovetailed with Washington's intention to pivot away from years of heavy military engagement in the Middle East to Asia, partly as a counterweight to China's rising clout.
"The Philippines' immediate and urgent motivation is to strengthen itself and look for a security shield with its pitiful military," Manila-based political analyst Ramon Casiple said. "The U.S. is looking for a re-entry to Asia, where its superpower status has been put in doubt."
The convergence could work to deter China's increasingly assertive stance in disputed territories, Casiple said. But it could further antagonize Beijing, which sees such tactical alliance as a U.S. strategy to contain its rise, and encourage China to intensify its massive military buildup, he said.
Hundreds of American military personnel have been deployed in the southern Philippines since 2002 to provide counterterrorism training and serve as advisers to Filipino soldiers, who have battled Muslim militants for decades.