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Op-ed

U.S., Philippine military deployment in South China Sea to disturb regional stability

Xinhua News Agency | Tue,2016-03-22

China on Monday slammed the United States and the Philippines for increasing their military presence in the South China Sea, as the Southeast Asian country announced plans to give the U.S. access to five bases.

"The U.S.-Philippines cooperation should not target third parties, harm the sovereignty or security interests of other states, or hamper regional peace and stability," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing.

The United States and the Philippines announced last Friday a deal allowing for the U.S. military to be present at five Philippine bases, including one close to China's Nansha Islands in the South China Sea.

The deal, reached under a 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the two countries, aims to expand a U.S. presence in its former colony through the rotation of ships and aircraft for so-called "humanitarian and maritime" security operations.

"The United States has talked about militarization in the South China Sea, but can it explain whether its own increased military deployment in the region is equivalent to militarization?" Hua questioned. 

Special siting of bases

One of the five bases -- the Antonio Bautista Air Base on Palawan Island -- lies around 160 kilometers from the Nansha Islands, and shares a single 9,000-foot (about 2.7 kilometers) runway with a local civilian airport.

Experts said the base boasts strategic significance for the U.S. military, which could exert military influence on the region around the islands as soon as troops are stationed there.

"The U.S. military could use the runway, command post and fueling facility at the Antonio Bautista Air Base for the regular takeoff and landing of its strategic bombers, anti-submarine patrol airplanes, tanker planes and fighter jets, so as to enhance its air and naval supremacy in the South China Sea," Ma Yao, an expert from the Shanghai International Studies University, told Xinhua. 

Stationed on the base, the U.S. military could quickly respond to any emergencies in the region, and also train the Philippine military to better serve U.S. interests, said Han Xudong, a professor with China's PLA National Defense University.

The move shows the United States is strengthening its rebalancing strategy toward the Asia-Pacific, which may lead to a new wave of turbulence in regional security, said Han. 

Strengthened alliance

Upon the announcement of the deal, Voltaire Gazmin, Secretary of the Department of National Defense of the Philippines, said the security cooperation between the two countries is strengthening due to the present situation in the South China Sea, while the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Amy Searight said that the Philippines is a "critical U.S. ally" and ties had never been stronger. 

Searight also said the Pentagon had told the U.S. Congress its intention to provide 50 million dollars to help maintain "regional security at sea" in Southeast Asia, and the Philippines will get a very big share of it.  

Ma said the strengthening of the alliance is actually aimed at China, with the United States taking a clearly biased approach in favor of China's rival claimants in the sea's territorial disputes. 

Han said that by singing the high praise of the alliance, the United States is trying to support Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, who needs to convince his people of the merits of the defense agreement. 

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