Explanation – Why the US is seeking closer security cooperation with the Philippines

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dated: 2022-11-20 06:13:35 .

David Brunnstrom and Karen Lema

WASHINGTON/MANILA (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is visiting the Philippines this week as part of the Biden administration’s latest high-level engagement with America’s oldest Asian ally and increasingly important strategic partner amid rising tensions with China over Taiwan.

Below are some of the main questions regarding their visit:

Why is the Philippines so important to the United States?

The Philippines is a former American colony and became an American party in 1951, five years after independence. During the Cold War, it housed some of America’s largest overseas bases, facilities vital to America’s wars in Korea and Vietnam. Philippine nationalism forced Washington to abandon them in the 1990s, but in recent years the allies have cooperated in the fight against terrorism and in response to growing Chinese military pressure in the South China Sea, where the Philippines has rival claims.

Today, the geographic location of the Philippines is at the center of US plans to repel and respond to any Chinese attack on Taiwan, a self-governing island claimed by China.

There are expected to be tensions over Taiwan when Harris meets President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday, Manila’s ambassador to Washington, Jose Manuel Romualdez, told Reuters.

Harris is also planning an iconic stop in the Philippines’ Palawan Islands in the South China Sea to show US support for its ally.

How does the country fit into American planning for a possible conflict over Taiwan?

Of America’s five Indo-Pacific treaty allies – Australia, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Thailand – the Philippines is closest to Taiwan, with its northernmost landmass, Luzon, just 200 km (120 mi) away.

Experts such as Randall Schriver, who served in the Trump administration as the Pentagon’s top East Asia official, said Luzon was of particular interest to the US military as a potential site for missile, missile and artillery systems that could be deployed around an amphibious assault to counter invasion of Taiwan.

He said the political environment for a better military approach appears to be improving under Marcos after a rocky period in relations during the six-year term of President Rodrigo Duterte, who is seeking closer ties with China.

Washington closely followed Marcos and Harris’ visit, which followed two meetings between President Joe Biden and Marcos and Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Manila in August.

How are Washington and Manila strengthening security cooperation?

The two sides have been moving forward with an agreement on enhanced defense cooperation that dates back to the Obama presidency and has faltered under Duterte. The EDCA allows US access to Philippine military bases for joint training, deployment of equipment and construction of facilities such as airstrips, fuel depots and military housing, but not a permanent presence.

It remains unclear to what extent the Philippines would allow its territory to be used to defend Taiwan. Romualdez, the ambassador to Washington and a relative of Marcos, said in September that he would allow US troops to use his bases only in the event of a conflict in Taiwan “if it is important to us, for our security.”

The United States proposed adding five more EDCA pages to the current five. Southeast Asia expert Gregory Poling of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said Harris’ trip could herald an agreement.

How would the Taiwan conflict affect the Philippines?

Poling believes that it would be extremely difficult for the Philippines to remain neutral in the Taiwan conflict, given its proximity to the island and its treaty obligations to the United States. It would be the most likely destination for Taiwanese refugees, and the approximately 150,000 Filipinos living on the island would be vulnerable to any Chinese attack.

“They have federal obligations to the American people,” Poling said. “So if they want US support in the South China Sea, the Americans will expect the Philippines to support Taiwan.”

What would the Philippines expect in return?

Schriver said that given the Pentagon’s growing concern about a possible attack on Taiwan, Washington wants assurances of access in the next year or two, although any open contingency planning in Taiwan is highly sensitive for Manila.

Poling said it was crucial to provide Manila with sufficient funds to support the modernization of its long-neglected armed forces. Washington recently announced $100 million in foreign military funding and $66.5 million for EDCA sites, but the amounts are small compared to what Washington is sending to the Middle East and Ukraine.

“The second Philippine demand is a continued clear commitment to the defense of the Philippines in the South China Sea,” Poling said. “They have it rhetorically, but the question for both sides is, do they have it functionally?” If there was a Chinese attack on a Philippine base in the South China Sea tomorrow, would the Americans be able to do anything about it? And that is far less clear, which is another reason why EDCA is so important.”

Graphic: -Overlapping claims in the South China Sea- https://graphics.reuters.com/PACIFIC-SECURITY/CHINA/zjpqkgogjpx/graphic.jpg

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Karen Lema; Editing by Don Durfee and Grant McCool)

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Explanation – Why the US is seeking closer security cooperation with the Philippines

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