China slams allocation of more EDCA sites

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (C) reviews honour guards upon arrival at the Department of National Defense at Camp Aguinaldo military camp in Quezon City, Metro Manila on February 2, 2023. Rolex DELA PENA / POOL / AFP

CHINA on Thursday said the United States' military posture in the region heightens the tension and undermines peace and stability in the Southeast Asian region.

The Chinese embassy in Manila said the US, “out of its self-interests and zero-sum game mentality, continues to step up military posture in this region.”

The embassy was commenting on the visit of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin 3rd to the Philippines to finalize the setting up of four new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites in the country.

The EDCA allows US troops to rotate through five Philippine bases, including those near disputed waters.

It also allows the US military to store defense equipment and supplies on those bases.

In its statement, the Chinese embassy said “China always holds that defense and security cooperation between countries should be conducive to regional peace and stability, not target against any third party, even less to harm the interests of a third party.”

It said Austin “smeared China on the issue of South China Sea to advance the anti-China political agenda of the US.”

“Such moves contradict the common aspiration of regional countries to seek peace, cooperation and development,” the embassy stressed.

It also “ran counter to the common aspiration of the Filipino people to pursue sound economic recovery and a better life in cooperation with China,” the embassy added.

It also expressed hope that the Philippine side “stays vigilant and resists from being taken advantage of and dragged into troubled waters.”

On Friday, Sen. Francis Tolentino said he favors defense security cooperation “upgrades” with reliable allies like the US, considering the evolving regional conditions and challenges.

Tolentino, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, described EDCA as a good model.

“We just have to lay down the parameters with friendship and sovereignty as the pillars,” he said.

He said “friendship and sovereignty” must be the key pillars in laying down the parameters for this new partnership between the two allies in the Asia-Pacific.

Last January, Tolentino proposed a multilateral show of maritime security cooperation with the US and countries which belong to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) by conducting joint patrols in the South China Sea.

Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero said the expansion of EDCA is well within the bounds of such an agreement and will help promote regional stability.

Escudero, however, disagreed with the principle of “deciding based on fear” (i.e. that we might be courting another nation's ire), as we should always be bold in our decisions based solely on our national interest and the welfare of our people.

The Gabriela Women's Party, meanwhile, condemned the designation of four more Philippine military sites as joint locations with the US under the EDCA.

Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas said the expansion “is a serious phase in America's military expansionism in Southeast Asia, bringing the country and the whole Asean region closer to instability and putting the Philippines even more in the crosshairs of US-China tensions.”

“We strongly denounce the Marcos Jr. administration's exceptionally warm reception of Washington's pivot, further surrendering our country's sovereignty to support US geopolitical interests in exchange for loans, foreign aid, and military financing,” Brosas said.

Adding EDCA sites to existing ones will bring more US troops and military assets to Philippine territory, she said.

It will also imply more frequent and larger joint military exercises, as well as increased foreign military funding for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which she said has been implicated in grave abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law.

“At the minimum, the four more EDCA bases should be publicly identified. We will call for a congressional inquiry on the operation of existing EDCA sites while we continue to demand the abrogation of the EDCA, Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT),” Brosas said.

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