White House gab marks warming relations amid US tensions with China
US President Joe Biden will welcome President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to the White House on May 1 in a sign of a warming bond between the two nations amid US tensions with China over Taiwan.
Biden will reaffirm Washington’s “ironclad commitment to the defenseof the Philippines, and the leaders will discuss efforts to strengthenthe longstanding US-Philippines alliance,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez on Friday said the US haspledged $100 million or over P5.5 billion for the acquisition of medium-lift helicopters for disaster response and non-combat operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
In a statement, Galvez said the US has also increased to $100 millionthe funding for the Philippine military facilities which the US forces may access under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
“The US has also increased the funding for the development of the EDCA sites from $82 million to $100 million, which is equivalent to anotherP5.5 billion. This brings the total of the US’s pledge of support for the… helicopters and EDCA projects to P11 billion,” he added.
The White House announcement comes a week after the largest-ever joint US-Philippines military exercises in the disputed South China Sea in the face of China’s growing assertiveness in the region, particularly over Taiwan, the self-governing island it claims as its own.
Last week, the US secretaries of Defense and State met with their Philippine counterparts in Washington in a high-level summit, days after the US gained greater access to Philippine military bases.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned of “a troubling increase in coercion and dangerous operational behavior” in the South China Sea,an apparent reference to a three-day Chinese military exercise thatsimulated a blockage and targeted strikes against Taiwan (see related story on A1 – Editors).
The White House statement said Biden and Marcos would discuss other matters including economic cooperation, clean energy, and respect for human rights.
“The two leaders will also discuss regional matters and coordinate onefforts to uphold international law and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the statement said.
Manila earlier this month announced the locations of four more military bases it is allowing the US military to use on top of thefive agreed on under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, known as EDCA.
The deal allows US troops to rotate through and store defense equipment and supplies.
Also. the Department of National Defense applauded the support from the mayors of Cagayan for implementing the EDCA sites in the province close to Taiwan.
In a statement Friday, Galvez said that 21 mayors have expressed their support and expect the numbers to increase, with one municipality evenwilling to donate a tract of land for the use of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“Truly, the overwhelming majority of local chief executives in theprovince supporting our endeavor proves the Filipino people’s appreciation of the merits of EDCA, not only for enhancing our national security but for providing opportunities to further develop our local communities as well,” Galvez said.
As part of the new EDCA sites, the four additional bases will also serve as points for the evacuation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs)in the event of a flare-up in the region, especially with tension rising in the country’s territorial waters.
Galvez also said that the US and PH Defense Attachés have been coordinating with their host countries on possible repatriation operations which can be partaken with the country’s ally, the United States, should the need arise.
The DND chief said the development of the said sites will strengthen the country’s maritime domain awareness and security and will serve as stations and shelters for radar local monitoring systems as the Philippines continued in its aim to the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“More importantly, the deployment and modernization of the AFP Forces through EDCA, which is an integral part of our Mutual Defense Treaty, shall boost our territorial defense capabilities and will enable our fisherfolk to freely pursue their livelihood in our waters,” said Galvez.
China warned last week the expanded military deal could endangerregional peace and accused Washington of a “zero-sum mentality.”
The four additional bases include sites near the hotly disputed South China Sea and another not far from Taiwan.
Mr. Marcos said China’s reaction over the expanded military deal was “not surprising,” but assured them the Philippines is only shoring upits territorial defense.
“We will not allow our bases to be used for any offensive actions.
This is only aimed at helping the Philippines whenever we need help,” the President told reporters.
“If no one is attacking us, they need not worry because we will not fight them.”
US-Philippines ties stalled under former president Rodrigo Duterte, who favored closer ties with China.
But Mr. Marcos, who succeeded Duterte last June, has adopted a more US-friendly foreign policy.
Galvez said the various projects at the EDCA sites, mostly for the warehousing and storage of humanitarian assistance and disaster response-related material, are scheduled for completion by the end of 2023.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the President will be in Washington, D.C. from April 30 to May 4 on an official visit.
The President’s activities will start on May 1 with a meeting withBiden—his second after New York which was held on the sidelines of theUnited Nations General Assembly. It will be followed by expanded meetings with key US Cabinet officials.
The DFA emphasized the importance of the visit as it “will reaffirmthe bonds of friendship that give definition and significance to the many facets of the bilateral relationship, underpinned by the close affinity shared by Filipinos and Americans alike for many years.”
“The trip will highlight the steadfast commitment by both sides to be reliable and resilient allies and partners in times of crisis and prosperity, amid a challenging global and regional environment,” the DFA said.
From the US, the President will fly to London for the coronation of King Charles III on May 6. With AFP