US Can’t Use Philippine Bases for China Offensive, Marcos Says

(Bloomberg) -- Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the US can’t use military bases in his country for “offensive action” against China in the event of a future war over Taiwan, as the Southeast Asian nation continues to balance strengthening American defense ties with increasing pressure from Beijing.

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“I think we are in lockstep with the US with that,” Marcos said. “And that they understand the concerns that the Philippines has, and are sensitive to the reasons why we have those concerns.”

Marcos, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Thursday, said the Biden administration had never raised the possibility that the military bases provided under an expanded defense cooperation agreement could become “staging areas for any offensive action against any country.”

The Philippines leader, who was elected last year, said he had even reassured Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang over American use of the sites when the top Chinese diplomat visited in late April.

“I assured him that no, these are not intended to be military bases to attack, to move against anyone, any country — not China, not any country,” Marcos said in a question-and-answer session following remarks on US-Philippine relations.

Marcos, in a separate Reuters interview, said joint patrols with the US, Australia, Japan and even South Korea in the disputed South China Sea could begin this year. Manila is in talks with Washington and Tokyo for a trilateral defense treaty, he added. He also told Reuters that expanded US access in the Philippines can be used for disaster responses and to evacuate Filipinos in Taiwan in case of conflict.

The comments come after the US and the Philippines announced an expansion of the so-called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Arrangement between the two nations, bringing the total number of military sites the US can access in the Philippines to nine from five.

Acrimony over Taiwan has worsened already discordant US-Chinese relations, and President Joe Biden has repeatedly said the US would come to Taiwan’s defense if the island were attacked, breaking with Washington’s longtime ambiguity on the issue.

Beijing, which has had disputes with many Southeast Asian countries over its expansive claims in the South China Sea, has criticized the US-Philippine defense agreement. A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the accord would “escalate tensions and endanger peace and stability in the region,” while warning Southeast Asian nations to “remain vigilant and avoid being coerced or used by the US.”

Marcos — who spent the majority of his remarks pitching the Philippines as an alternative for companies restructuring supply chains in Asia — said his country’s foreign policy was based on peace and that it doesn’t wish to “provoke” China.

He added that the Philippines is still trying to set up a hotline between Manila and Beijing to ensure that maritime disputes don’t escalate, and stressed that the defense agreement with the US wouldn’t allow deployed forces to attack China from Philippine sites.

--With assistance from Andreo Calonzo.

(Adds Marcos remarks in Reuters interview in 6th paragraph.)

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