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Austin in Philippines to Discuss Troops02/01 06:17

   Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in the Philippines on Wednesday for talks 
about deploying U.S. forces and weapons in more Philippine military camps to 
ramp up deterrence against China's increasingly aggressive actions toward 
Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea.

   MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in the 
Philippines on Wednesday for talks about deploying U.S. forces and weapons in 
more Philippine military camps to ramp up deterrence against China's 
increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan and in the disputed South China 
Sea.

   Austin flew from South Korea, where he said the U.S. would increase its 
deployment of advanced weapons such as fighter jets and bombers to the Korean 
Peninsula to bolster joint training with South Korean forces in response to 
North Korea's growing nuclear threat.

   In the Philippines, Washington's oldest treaty ally in Asia and a key front 
in the U.S. battle against terrorism, Austin visited southern Zamboanga city 
and met Filipino generals and a small contingent of U.S. counterterrorism 
forces based in a local military camp, regional Philippine military commander 
Lt. Gen. Roy Galido said. The more than 100 U.S. military personnel have 
provided intelligence and combat advice for years to Filipino troops battling a 
decades-long Muslim insurgency, which has considerably eased but remains a key 
threat.

   More recently, U.S. forces have intensified and broadened joint training 
focusing on combat readiness and disaster response with Filipino troops in the 
Southeast Asian nation's western coast, which faces the South China Sea, and in 
its northern Luzon region across the sea from the Taiwan Strait.

   American forces have been granted access to five Philippine military camps, 
where they could rotate indefinitely under a 2014 defense pact called the 
Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

   In October, the U.S. sought access for a larger number of its forces and 
weapons in an additional five military camps, mostly in the north. That request 
would be high on the agenda in Austin's meetings, according to Philippine 
officials.

   "The visit of Secretary Austin definitely, obviously will have to do with 
many of the ongoing discussions on the EDCA sites," Philippine Ambassador to 
Washington Jose Romualdez said at a news briefing.

   Austin was scheduled to hold talks Thursday with his Philippine counterpart, 
Carlito Galvez Jr., and National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano, Romualdez said. 
Austin will separately call on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office 
in June and has since taken steps to boost relations with Washington.

   The U.S. defense chief is the latest senior official to visit the 
Philippines after Vice President Kamala Harris in November in a sign of warming 
ties after a strained period under Marcos's predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.

   Duterte had nurtured cozy ties with China and Russia and at one point 
threatened to sever ties with Washington, kick visiting American forces out and 
abrogate a major defense pact.

   Romualdez said the Philippines needed to cooperate with Washington to deter 
any escalation of tensions between China and self-ruled Taiwan -- not only 
because of the treaty alliance but to help prevent a major conflict.

   "We're in a Catch-22 situation. If China makes a move on Taiwan militarily, 
we'll be affected -- and all ASEAN region, but mostly us, Japan and South 
Korea," Romualdez told The Associated Press, referring to the Association of 
Southeast Asian Nations, the 10-nation regional bloc that includes the 
Philippines.

   The Philippines and ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, along with 
Taiwan, have been locked in increasingly tense territorial disputes with China 
in the South China Sea. The U.S. has been regarded as a crucial counterweight 
to China in the region and has pledged to come to the defense of the 
Philippines if Filipino forces, ships or aircraft come under attack in the 
contested waters.

   The Philippines used to host two of the largest U.S. Navy and Air Force 
bases outside the American mainland. The bases were shut down in the early 
1990s after the Philippine Senate rejected an extension, but American forces 
returned for large-scale combat exercises with Filipino troops under a 1999 
Visiting Forces Agreement.

   The Philippine Constitution prohibits the permanent basing of foreign troops 
and their involvement in local combat.

 
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