This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Granting the United States greater access to Philippine military bases will drag the Southeast Asian nation into “geopolitical strife,” China’s embassy here has warned, claiming the move is part of a plot to contain its growing regional influence.
The embassy issued the statement a day after MaryKay Carlson, the American ambassador to Manila, said in an interview on Philippine television that the expanded access to local military facilities was meant to allow U.S. forces to respond quickly to humanitarian needs in the region.
Washington aims to “secure its hegemony and selfish geopolitical interests” by continuously upgrading its military presence in the Philippines by gaining access to more bases for military deployments, the Chinese Embassy said.
“Whereas the U.S. claims that such cooperation is intended to help the disaster relief efforts of the Philippines and some Americans even tout the EDCA sites as driver[s] of [the] local economy, it is plain and simple that those moves are part of the U.S. efforts to encircle and contain China through its military alliance with this country,” said the statement released by the embassy on Sunday.
In 2014, The Philippines and the United States signed the EDCA, or Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which supplemented the Visiting Forces Agreement of 1999. The VFA provides legal cover for large-scale joint war games between the two longtime allies.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Manila declined comment.
In February, the allies announced that Manila had agreed that American forces would have access to four more Philippine military sites they did not identify, bringing the total to nine at present.
While no names were mentioned, a governor of an area at the northern tip of Luzon island that directly faces Taiwan – Manuel Mamba of Cagayan province – testified before a Senate inquiry that he believed his jurisdiction had been selected. Another northern province, Isabela, has been identified by the local press, citing their own sources.
“If the new sites are located in Cagayan and Isabela, which are close to Taiwan, does the U.S. really intend to help the Philippines in disaster relief with these EDCA sites? And is it really in the national interest of the Philippines to get dragged by the U.S. to interfere in the Taiwan question?,” a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy said in the statement.
“To bundle the Philippines into the chariots of geopolitical strife will seriously harm Philippine national interests and endanger regional peace and stability,” the statement warned.
The Philippines, which observes a “one-China policy,” had earlier said it was closely monitoring the developments in the Taiwan Strait, because thousands of Filipinos could be placed in danger if China moves to invade the island, which it considers a renegade province. There are some 150,000 Filipinos in Taiwan, the third largest contingent of migrant workers there.
U.S. envoy Carlson, in an interview broadcast over GMA television in Manila on Saturday, declined to identify the new military bases under the expanded EDCA sites, but said they may be announced “within the next several months.”
The sites, she said, were chosen to help protect the livelihoods of Filipino fisherfolk as well as to help in humanitarian crises.
Carlson stressed that the Americans “stand at the ready to work with Philippine allies” amid continued Chinese harassment in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
“We have your back. Our mutual goal is to deter conflict, not to instigate conflict,” the ambassador said.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy stressed that contrary to accusations by the Philippines, U.S. and other countries, freedom of navigation in the South China Sea was not being impeded.
Beijing accused Washington of stirring up trouble in the region and driving a wedge between China and the Philippines.
“When talking about free and open waterways, what the U.S. has in its mind is actually the freedom of rampage of its warships in the South China Sea. The U.S. military has been coming all the way from the other side of the Pacific to stir up trouble in the South China Sea and ganging up with its allies from other parts of the world to flex [its muscles] in the South China Sea,” it said.
“We need to focus on cooperation and development, and truly safeguard, promote and build peace, stability, prosperity of our region and bring more tangible benefits to people of our two countries,” it added.
China and the Philippines have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, along with Taiwan and the Southeast Asian nations of Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam.