After China deployed 16 fighter jets to patrol the highly disputed area in the South China Sea, the Pentagon responded by planning to increase its military bases in the Philippines, a country with an existing claim in part of the disputed area.
On Wednesday, U.S Defense Secretary Ashton Carter arrived in Manila to personally see the on-going joint military exercise between the US and the Philippines. The military drill, which is locally called as Balikatan (shoulder to shoulder), was temporary halted after some groups questioned its constitutionality.
At present, the U.S has five military bases spread across the Philippines. These are Antonio Bautista Air Base, Basa Air Base, Fort Magsaysay, Lumbia Air Base, and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base. These bases were announced following a court ruling in 2014, which approved the new military exercise between the two nations dubbed as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
According to a report from the CNN Philippines, apart from observing the military exercise, which began last April 4 and will run until the 15th, Carter is also scheduled to attend other activities including the use of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). The HIMARS is a modern missile launcher that was used by the U.S forces in Afghanistan.
The report added that the war games, which is currently attended by some 3,500 Filipino and 5,000 American troops, has also gathered military troops from Australia and eight other countries. China, on the other hand, said the joint military exercises will further escalate the already tensed tension in the South China Sea.
Meanwhile, as to the U.S government’s plan to increase its military bases in the Philippines, Carter told reporters in Washington before departing for Manila that the putting up five existing bases in the Philippines is only the beginning, the Stripes reported.
“The agreement provides for more sites in the future — so there [will] be more but these are just the five initial sites. Rotational presence for U.S. forces to operate with and out of the Philippines in support of… friends and allies in the region in defense, not only of our own interests but in our wider interests,” Carter was quoted as saying by Stripes.