US to deploy troops on strategic island in the northern Philippines

Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary, answers reporters' questions while visiting Seoul on Tuesday - Shutterstock
Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary, answers reporters' questions while visiting Seoul on Tuesday - Shutterstock

US troops are set to be deployed to an island in the northern Philippines that could be vital in the event of a conflict with Beijing over Taiwan or the disputed South China Sea.

The enhanced US military activity in the country will be set out in a reported deal to be announced this week when Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary, meets with his Filipino counterpart and with Ferdinand Marcos Jr, president of the Philippines, reported the Washington Post.

The US already has access to four air bases and one army base. The expansion reportedly involves greater access to Philippine military bases and is expected to include two on the northern island of Luzon, which faces Taiwan to the north across the Luzon Strait, a body of water that connects the South China Sea with the Philippine Sea.

Analysts say it could give US forces a greater strategic foothold from which to launch operations in a military or humanitarian crisis.

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, discussed the issue with Eduardo Año, his opposite number in the Philippines, earlier this month as part of a White House drive to step up ties with Indo-Pacific allies.

Mr Año acknowledged that increased military cooperation with the United States “bodes well for our defence posture”.

The Philippines has been a US treaty ally since 1951 but relations nosedived under Rodrigo Duterte, the former president, who took the country in a pro-Beijing, anti-American direction and threatened to end the Visiting Forces Agreement, which gives legal protection to US military based there.

US-Philippine ties have been revived under President Marcos, who said earlier this month that long-raging disputes in the South China Sea that involve China, the Philippines and other coastal states have kept him “up at night” and warned that a major confrontation in Asia would be disastrous for the world.

Mr Austin will visit the Philippines following his trip to Seoul for talks with Lee Jong-sup, South Korea’s defence minister.

The defence chiefs vowed on Tuesday to expand military drills and boost nuclear deterrence planning in the face of a rising threat from neighbouring North Korea, which launched an unprecedented number of missiles last year, including intercontinental ballistic weapons capable of reaching the US mainland.

Mr Austin said his visit was intended to assure Seoul the US commitment to its security was “ironclad.”