MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines on Jan. 27 announced plans to allow a greater U.S. military presence on its territory, in a move analysts said was directly aimed at trying to contain a rising China.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines was looking for more joint military exercises with its former colonial ruler, as well as having a greater number of U.S. troops rotating through the country.
“It is to our definite advantage to be exploring how to maximize our treaty alliance with the United States in ways that would be mutually acceptable and beneficial,” del Rosario said in a statement.
Del Rosario did not specifically name China as driving the Philippines’ push for a greater U.S. military presence, but highlighted “territorial disputes.” The most pressing territorial dispute for the Philippines is with China over claims to parts of the South China Sea, home to some of the world’s most important shipping lanes and believed to hold vast deposits of fossil fuels.
The Philippines and Vietnam, who also claims parts of the South China Sea, complained repeatedly last year of what they said were increasingly aggressive acts by China in the decades-long rift.
The accusations, which included a Chinese naval ship firing warning shots at Filipino fishermen, fueled fears among some nations in the region about China as its military and political strength grows.
In his statement, del Rosario said a greater U.S. military presence in the Philippines would help bolster regional security.
“Such cooperative efforts would as well result in achieving a balance of influence to ensure peace, stability, and economic development in the region,” he said.
Nevertheless, del Rosario and other officials emphasized there were no plans to allow a return of the large-scale U.S. military bases that existed in the Philippines until 1992, when Filipino senators voted to close them down.
Del Rosario said the increased U.S. military presence could include “planning more joint exercises to promote interoperability, and a rotating and more frequent presence by them.”
Aside from regular military exercises, the most notable U.S. presence in the Philippines in recent times has been a rotating force of about 600 troops that has been stationed in the southern Philippines for the past decade.
The U.S. special operations forces train local troops in how to combat Islamic militants but are not allowed to have a fighting role.
Del Rosario’s statement expanded on comments by U.S. State Department officials on Jan. 26, who said the two countries were involved in talks this week on increasing military cooperation.
Philippine officials said more talks would be held in March to determine specifics of the plans.
Political analysts in Manila said the Philippines’ decision to allow a larger U.S. military presence was a direct reaction to China’s perceived increased aggressiveness, particularly regarding the South China Sea.
“The Philippines is now playing the U.S. card to get more leverage against China,” said Rommel Banlaoi, head of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.
Rene de Castro, a lecturer in international studies at De la Salle University said: “We are playing the balance of power game because we have no means to deal with an emergent and very assertive China.”
In a strategic shift that has angered China, the United States has been looking to increase its military presence across the Asia Pacific.
U.S. President Barack Obama said in November the United States would deploy up to 2,500 Marines to northern Australia. The next month a U.S. admiral wrote that the U.S. expected to station several combat ships in Singapore.