Philippines stoking regional tension with US bases pact, China envoy says
Manila (Reuters) – The Philippines is “stoking the fire” of regional tension by offering expanded military base access to the United States, whose goal is to interfere in China’s affairs with Taiwan, Beijing’s ambassador to Manila said on Friday.
The Philippines early this month identified four more bases that Washington can use under a an expanded Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the locations of which are significant, with three facing north towards Taiwan and one near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
“Facts speak louder than words. Obviously, the U.S. intends to take advantage of the new EDCA sites to interfere in the situation across the Taiwan Strait to serve its geopolitical goals, and advance its anti-China agenda at the expense of peace and development of the Philippines and the region at large,” Chinese ambassador Huang Xilian told a forum.
The U.S. embassy in Manila said the EDCA “is not about any other third country.”
“EDCA sites will support combined training exercises and interoperability between U.S. and Philippine forces to ensure that we’re even better prepared for future crises,” its spokesperson Kanishka Gangopadhyay said in a phone message.
The Philippines’ foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
EDCA, signed in 2014, underlines the strategic importance of the Philippines to its former colonial ruler the United States, coming at a time of concern over China’s conduct in the South China Sea and tension over self-ruled Taiwan.
The EDCA allows U.S. access to Philippine bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and building of facilities, but it is not a permanent presence and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has assured China the bases would not be used in any offensive action.
But Huang took aim at the Philippines over the U.S. pact and said it should be mindful of the welfare of the many overseas Filipino workers, or OFWs, who are based in nearby Taiwan.
“The Philippines is advised to unequivocally oppose ‘Taiwan independence’ rather than stoking the fire by offering the U.S. access to the military bases near the Taiwan Strait, if you care genuinely about the 150,000 OFWs,” Huang said.