Michael Martina, Don Durfee, and David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Reuters) – On Thursday, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said that granting U.S. military bases access in the Philippines was a defensive measure that would be “useful” if China attacked Taiwan.
Marcos did not directly respond to the question of whether the United States would be able to place weapons on the bases in the event that China attacked Taiwan. Marcos was speaking at the conclusion of a four day visit to Washington, which included a meeting with President Joe Biden, and an agreement updating the nearly 72 year defensive alliance between the two countries.
Marcos said to Reuters that the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), reached with the United States, in 2014, was initially conceived for improving disaster response.
He said, "Now it has an added aspect." "And this is that tensions seem to continue to rise across the Taiwan Straits. "The safety of our Filipinos in Taiwan then becomes of paramount importance."
He added that these EDCA websites would also be helpful to us in the event of an invasion.
Manila is sensitive about the February agreement that allows the U.S. military to use four more bases in the Philippines. It wants to have closer military ties with the United States, without worrying China, its biggest trading partner.
China said this decision "stoked the fire" in regional tension.
Marcos stated that Washington "has not suggested any type of action for the Philippines as far as taking part in Taiwan's defense."
He said that he was speaking about disasters, evacuations of Filipinos, and civil defense.
CONCERNATIONS ABOUT CHINA
Marcos sought clarification from Washington on Washington's commitment in protecting his country, amid increasing tensions surrounding the South China Sea where Manila and Beijing both have competing claims, and tensions regarding Taiwan and North Korea.
The visit, which marked the first White House trip by a Philippine leader for 10 years, was a dramatic departure from the tone of the previous administration, led by Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte had turned the Philippines from its former ally, and instead sought closer ties to China.
Experts claim that the U.S. sees the Philippines, on its part, as a possible location for weapons in order to counter an amphibious Chinese invasion of Taiwan which China claims is its own territory.
After a meeting last month with Philippine officials, U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin stated that it was "too soon" to discuss which assets the United States wished to station in Philippine bases.
Marcos, who spoke earlier Thursday at a U.S. Think Tank, said he had told China's Foreign Minister that EDCA sites are not meant for "offensive actions". Marcos also claimed that Washington did not ask the Philippines to send troops in case of a conflict over Taiwan.
Biden stated on Monday that U.S. commitment was "ironclad" to defend its ally, including in South China Sea. He also said that guidelines released on Wednesday laid down treaty obligations if either party were attacked in South China Sea.
This year, the Joint Patrols will begin.
Marcos stated that Manila has agreed in principle with the United States to conduct joint patrols of the South China Sea, along with Australia, Japan, and "even South Korea", and that they are expected to begin this year. Marcos said that the patrols will help to preserve freedom of movement in the South China Sea where China is increasing its military presence.
He also said that Manila was discussing a trilateral defence treaty with Japan and the United States. Marcos didn't specify the details of this agreement.
Marcos stated that the Philippines "made a great start" in discussions with China over disputed fishing rights.
He said: "I told President Xi last year was the very first time in Philippine history that we were forced to import fish. This is a ridiculous thing for a nation that has over 7,100 islands."
He added, "I told President Xi... maybe we can take the small step of allowing our fishermen to ply, once more, their trade."
Marcos said that his country, China and the United States must resolve their disputes regarding oil and gas exploration quickly.