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Philippines may allow greater U.S. military presence to counter China's military rise


January 26, 2012 - Manila

The Philippines is in talks with the Obama administration about expanding American military presence in the island nation, the latest in a series of strategic moves aimed at countering China's expanding presence in the region.

According to the Washington Post, although negotiations are in the early stages, officials from both governments said they are favorably inclined towards such a deal.

They are scheduled to intensify the discussions Thursday and Friday in Washington before higher-level meetings in March.

If an arrangement is reached, it would follow other recent agreements to base thousands of U.S. Marines in northern Australia and to station Navy warships in Singapore.

Among the options under consideration are operating Navy ships from the Philippines, deploying troops on a rotational basis and staging more frequent joint exercises. Under each scenario, U.S. forces would effectively be guests at existing foreign bases.

The sudden rush by many in the Asia-Pacific region to embrace Washington is a direct reaction to China's rise as a military power and its assertiveness in staking claims to disputed territories, such as the energy-rich South China Sea.

The strategic talks with the Philippines are in addition to feelers that the Obama administration has put out to other Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam and Thailand, about possibly bolstering military partnerships.

The United States already has about 600 Special Operations troops in the Philippines, where they advise local forces in their fight with rebels sympathetic to al-Qaeda. But the talks underway between Manila and Washington potentially involve a much more extensive partnership.

Officials in the Philippines - which has 7,107 islands - said their priority is to strengthen maritime defenses, especially near the South China Sea. They indicated a willingness to host American ships and surveillance aircraft.

Although the U.S. military has tens of thousands of troops stationed at long-standing bases in Japan, South Korea and Guam, as well as the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, it is seeking to solidify its presence in Southeast Asia.

Some of the world's busiest trade routes pass through the South China Sea and the nearby Strait of Malacca.

Instead of trying to establish giant bases reminiscent of the Cold War, however, Pentagon officials said they want to maintain a light footprint.

The distinction is critical in the Philippines, which kicked the U.S. military out of its sprawling naval base at Subic Bay in 1992 after lawmakers rejected a new treaty.

Along with the nearby Clark Air Base, which the Pentagon abandoned in 1991 after a volcanic eruption, Subic Bay had served as a keystone of the U.S. military presence in Asia for nearly a century.

ANI

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