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No new EDCA bases—Marcos

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Balikatan exercises may be expanded to include Japan

President Marcos said Monday the United States would not be given access to more military bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that allows American troops to rotate through and store defense equipment and supplies in the Philippines.

“The answer to that is no. The Philippines has no plan to open or to establish more EDCA bases,” Mr. Marcos said during a forum with the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines that was attended by senior members of the Philippine military and foreign diplomats.

His remarks came days after a trilateral summit between the United States, Japan and the Philippines in Washington where tensions over the disputed South China Sea – which Beijing claims almost entirely – were high on the agenda.

Mr. Marcos also said US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had given assurances that the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty would be invoked if another “foreign power” killed a Filipino soldier.

“If any Filipino serviceman is killed by an attack or an aggressive action from any foreign power, then that is time to invoke the mutual defense treaty,” the President said.

“Whatever their designations are, whether they were merchant marine or Coast Guard or actual gray vessels or navy vessels, it does not matter. That is an attack on the Philippines by a foreign power,” Mr. Marcos said.

The President said he is also open to a possible expansion of the annual “Balikatan” military exercises with the US as part of the deepening cooperation with other countries, in particular Japan.

“Balikatan is traditionally between the Philippines and the US. It is part of our Mutual Defense Treaty that’s why we hold these exercises every year,” he said.

“Now with the inclusion of Japan into some of these exercises that we have been doing not only in Balikatan but also in other exercises, I don’t see any reason why Japan should not be part of those exercises in the future,” he added.

This year’s Balikatan will open on April 22 and will include 14 observer countries. China, however, will not send an observer for this year’s exercise.

Mr. Marcos also said that negotiations with Japan for a defense pact that would allow the countries’ troops to set foot on each other’s territory were “very close” to a conclusion.

Beijing’s growing assertiveness in pressing its claims to almost the entire South China Sea and over Taiwan has given fresh impetus to Washington and Manila to strengthen their partnership.

Given the proximity of the Philippines to Taiwan and its surrounding waters, the country’s cooperation would be crucial in the event of a conflict with China.

As this developed, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said strategic bases will be set up to protect the country’s eastern seaboard, where the resource-rich Philippine Rise, formerly Benham Rise, is located.

AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said these facilities would be part of the adjustments made under the Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept (CADC).

“We’re projecting our defenses up to our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and then aside from that we are also now looking into our strategic basing, even in our eastern seaboard we are taking steps to create strategic bases on the eastern seaboard,” he added. With AFP

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