The Philippines is pushing to bolster defense ties with the US and Japan amid the Southeast Asian nation’s lingering territorial dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea.
(Bloomberg) — The Philippines is pushing to bolster defense ties with the US and Japan amid the Southeast Asian nation’s lingering territorial dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea.
“Stronger” facilities will be built in Philippine military sites where the US was given access, Armed Forces chief Romeo Brawner Jr. said in a briefing on Thursday. Manila is also working to finalize a visiting forces deal with Tokyo, he said.
“We are looking to engage the Japan Self-Defense Forces more intensely next year,” Brawner told reporters. Apart from radar systems, the Philippine military is also interested in Japan’s aircraft, ships, and weapons, he said.
Washington early this year won access to four more sites under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which initially covered five Philippine military bases. The new sites are located near Taiwan and the South China Sea, where Beijing and Manila are embroiled in an increasingly tense territorial dispute.
US Indo-Pacific Command head Admiral John Aquilino, in a meeting with Brawner last month, signaled Washington wanted additional sites. On Thursday, Brawner said plans to add more EDCA sites are still being discussed.
Meanwhile, the Philippine military has halted sending personnel to China for trainings after a Chinese ship in August fired a water canon on a Philippine vessel in the South China Sea, Brawner said.
China has opposed the expanded military deal between the US and the Philippines, with Beijing’s envoy to Manila Huang Xilian in April accusing the US of seeking to “take advantage” of the new sites “to interfere in the situation across the Taiwan Strait.” Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has said the sites will not be used for “any offensive action.”
Brawner said the Philippine military does not have any engagements with Taiwan and does “not see any future engagements” with the self-ruling island, which China regards as a renegade province.
Marcos’s administration is bolstering US defense ties as it pushes back against Beijing’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea. The Philippines has in recent weeks carried out resupply missions to a military outpost despite Chinese vessels’ “dangerous maneuvers.”
Last week, China’s coast guard said it drove away a Philippine Navy vessel near the disputed shoal, a day after its foreign ministry urged the Philippines to stop making “provocations.”
The Philippine military is working to expand its cybersecurity unit by recruiting more IT professionals, Brawner said, amid recent hacking incidents in government agencies. Next year, its military drills with the U.S. will involve a cybersecurity exercise he said.
(Updates to add military chief’s comments on Japan cooperation, Taiwan, suspension of training in China and cybersecurity.)
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