President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines has declared that the United States military will be stationed at four different sites throughout the nation, including one in a province abutting the South China Sea conflict region.

The Marcos government declared last month that it would permit cyclic sets of US troops to stay in four military camps in the Philippines in addition to the five already recognized under the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

The Philippines has a long and complicated relationship regarding matters concerned with the South China Sea. It is one of six countries claiming parts of the sea, which encompasses some 1.3 million square miles and is believed to hold vast oil and natural gas reserves and major fisheries.

The area has been the subject of heated territorial disputes between China and the Philippines. In July 2016, the international tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippine government against Chinese claims over a large portion of the South China Sea. In response, China refused to accept the ruling and has since increased its presence with military activities such as constructing and deploying weapons systems. This further increased tensions between China and other claimants, including the Philippines. Unilateral attempts by any side to claim ownership or control over contested areas could have severe implications for regional security and stability. As a result, the contentious issue remains unresolved.

Now, the Philippines’ northern parts will house the new American bases, which is expected to provoke China due to the strategic proximity of these bases to Southern China and Taiwan.

“There are four extra sites scattered around the Philippines – there are some in the north, there are some around Palawan, there are some further south,” Marcos told reporters at the sidelines of the Philippine army’s founding anniversary.

Marcos declared that the exact locations of the sites were to be revealed in the near future and that this would improve the nation’s capability to protect the east of its main island, Luzon – the Philippine island closest to Taiwan.

The ex-commander of the Philippine armed forces recently affirmed that the US had requested permission to use military installations on the island of Luzon, which faces Taiwan, primarily situated in Isabela, Zambales, Cagayan, and Palawan, located close to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

However, other local government officials have disagreed with Marcos’s decision to permit the US forces to be present in the nation. They are apprehensive that they would get involved in any possible confrontation between the US and China concerning Taiwan.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, Marcos communicated to the local government the significance of the augmented US military in the region. According to Inquirer, Marcos is optimistic that the officials will eventually agree to the US military sites in their districts.

The Philippines has a long history of hosting US military bases. In 1947, the two countries signed the Military Bases Agreement, which granted US forces access to central Philippine military installations and other strategic locations in exchange for economic assistance. This agreement formed a critical alliance between the two nations and was a cornerstone of Philippines-US security policy for more than four decades.

Since then, the US has provided substantial defense aid and training to Philippine forces, enabling them to develop effective strategies against insurgencies and terrorism in far-flung regions such as Mindanao. American support has also allowed Filipino troops to participate better in regional peacekeeping operations. Additionally, joint exercises have provided valuable experience for both sides in responding effectively to potential regional threats. Overall, the presence of US military forces in the Philippines has markedly bolstered the country’s defensive capabilities and helped ensure regional stability.

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The United States has allocated funds for infrastructure developments for the five existing bases: Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Mindanao.

Marcos also instructed the Philippine troops to remain alert, as the external risk to their nation’s safety was getting increasingly “intricate” and “unforeseeable.” He did not give detailed information, yet he declared that he was aware of a “developing danger” to the country’s boundaries, which he claimed would necessitate “modifications in our methodology.”

“The external security environment is becoming more complex. It is becoming more unpredictable,” he said.

However, this is triggering a bold response from China. Beijing has often asserted that the US is attempting to hinder China’s military strength and create a rift between China and countries in the Southeast Asian region, for example, the Philippines.

In a recent statement, the Chinese embassy in Manila declared that attempting to generate economic opportunities and work via military cooperation is akin to assuaging one’s thirst with poison and alleviating wounds by cutting into flesh.

The embassy warned that if cooperation was pursued, it could put regional peace and stability at risk and potentially pull the Philippines into a geopolitical struggle, hindering its economic growth in the long run.

“We generally believe that defense cooperation between countries should be conducive to regional peace and stability and should not be aimed at third parties or harm the interests of third parties,” spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters at a regular news briefing.

Next month, the US and Philippine militaries are scheduled to engage in their largest joint exercise, Balikatan, a Tagalog phrase for “shoulder-to-shoulder.”