The U.S. and the Philippines agree to a larger American military presence
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Military analysts sometimes use this term - unsinkable aircraft carrier.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
That's the term for an island in the Pacific where you can base planes or troops. The United States just obtained additional rights to an unsinkable aircraft carrier off the coast of China. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is in Manila and said the U.S. gained access to four more military bases in the Philippines.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
LLOYD AUSTIN: America's commitment to the defense of the Philippines is ironclad. Our alliance makes both of our democracies more secure and helps uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific.
FADEL: Both countries are worried about China's growing influence.
INSKEEP: Our colleague Ashley Westerman is covering this story from Manila. Hey there, Ashley.
ASHLEY WESTERMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: What exactly did the U.S. and the Philippines agree to?
WESTERMAN: So the deal today adds to the U.S. military's options if something were to happen in the region. And with these four bases, the U.S. now has access to nine bases here in the Philippines. And it's being done under what's called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, or EDCA. And that was signed back in 2014. But it was stalled for years by former President Rodrigo Duterte, who chose to cozy up to Beijing rather than Washington.
WESTERMAN: Now, maritime affairs analyst Jay Batongbacal says this new agreement does not necessarily mean more U.S. boots on the ground.
JAY BATONGBACAL: EDCA provides mainly for the United States to be able to build infrastructure on Philippine military bases and also for pre-positioning of supplies and equipment.
WESTERMAN: And Batongbacal says over the years, it's become clear to many that a new arrangement was needed as China began asserting itself, becoming a threat to both the U.S. and the Philippines.
INSKEEP: Well, I know the Philippines have had tensions with China. But did either country say this is really aimed at China?
WESTERMAN: Well, they both took great pains to not say that. But analysts say this expanded footprint could help deter China from, one, taking action against self-governed Taiwan and, two, better help contain China in the South China Sea. And the South China Sea is a long-running issue between China and its neighbors. Southeast Asian countries say China has been making excessive claims to the South China Sea, basically claiming all of it. And the Chinese military have also been constructing bases in some of these contested waters for years.
And when it comes to Taiwan, China has also become increasingly aggressive, especially over the last year, with military exercises. And if you remember, when former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August, China doubled down on exercises in the Taiwan Strait. And so all of these actions are making China's neighbors very nervous. And China has actually responded to the announcement today. A spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry in a press conference accused the U.S. of exacerbating tension in the region and endangering regional peace and stability.
INSKEEP: What do Filipinos think about all this?
WESTERMAN: So many Filipinos are wary about allowing more U.S. military personnel here. Remember, the Philippines used to be a colony of the U.S. And even though the last U.S. bases were gone by 1992, U.S. troops continue to rotate through here for military exercises and such. And there have been ongoing issues with U.S. military servicemen and abuses of local women and the LGBTQ community. The most notable case of that is Jennifer Laude, a trans women killed by a U.S. Marine in 2014. Now, that Marine was convicted of murder here in the Philippines, but he was pardoned by former President Duterte and allowed to return to the U.S. And so many Filipinos believe that he was pardoned after the government was pressured by the U.S. military. So between this and the U.S.' colonial history, a lot of Filipinos are nervous about a bigger U.S. footprint here. But they're also nervous about Chinese expansion as well.
INSKEEP: That's our colleague, Ashley Westerman, reporting from Manila. Ashley, always a pleasure talking with you.
WESTERMAN: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.