The United States has increased its military presence and cooperation in many Asian countries, seen as a move to reassure allies and increase deterrence against China.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on February 2 announced an agreement with the Philippines allowing the US access to four more military bases in this Southeast Asian country. Mr. Austin called this a “major deal” to help increase the US military presence in the Philippines, although these are not permanent garrison bases.
This agreement allows the US to rotate its forces in the Philippines, including Luzon island, which covers two strategically important areas, the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.
Officials say thousands of US troops are regularly rotated to the Philippines, to ensure that at least 500 troops are present in the country at any given time. They perform military exercises, humanitarian aid or training and other duties.
The Philippines previously allowed US troops to be stationed at five designated bases. With the new deal, US troops will now have access to nine Philippine military bases.
During a joint press conference with his Philippine counterpart Carlito Galvez Jr. In Manila, Mr. Austin said efforts to strengthen the military alliance between the two countries are “especially important as China continues to advance its illegal claims” in the South China Sea.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning later criticized the US for “pursuing a selfish agenda” with the new military agreement with the Philippines, calling it “an act that escalates tensions, endangers regional peace and stability”.
However, this is only one part of the expansion of US military cooperation in countries in the Asia-Pacific, stretching from Japan to the Solomon Islands, all of which are located around China and linked to China. related to key positions near the Taiwan Strait, the East Sea.
According to commentator Lotita Baldor of APThese are US moves to increase deterrence against China, as well as reassure allies in the region of Washington’s commitment.
In Japan, Washington in January agreed to adjust the US military’s presence on Okinawa to “enhance anti-ship capabilities necessary in the event of a conflict breaking out over Taiwan or China to carry out military actions.” other hostile activities in the East and South China Seas”.
The two sides also added mention of the “space” element in the US-Japan security treaty, stating that “attacks to, from, and in space” can trigger defense provisions. common defense.
Japan has announced that it will build two airstrips on the southern island of Megeshima, where it is expected to hold joint exercises, landing training and missile interception with the United States over the next four years.
The island of Megeshima could become a gathering point for troops and ammunition in the event of an emergency such as the outbreak of a conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
The United States will restructure the 12th Marine Regiment in Okinawa into a smaller, more flexible, and better equipped unit that can fight and defend the United States and its allies in the region.
The US State Department this week also opened an embassy in the Solomon Islands, a move seen as a “direct effort to respond to China’s growing influence” in the Pacific island nation.
The United States once opened an embassy in the Solomon Islands, but closed it in 1993 during the reduction of diplomatic missions. However, US officials are increasingly concerned about the possibility of relations with the Solomon Islands weakening, while China strengthens its influence in the region.
The Solomon Islands cut ties with Taiwan in 2019 and signed a security treaty with China in 2022. US officials fear this security treaty will create conditions for China to increase its military presence in the region. , despite the Solomon Islands’ claim not to allow China to set up a military base.
Rising tensions with China and its close ally, North Korea, is believed to be one of the reasons why US Defense Secretary Austin on January 31 announced that the US would deploy more advanced weapons to the region. South Korea, including fighter jets and aircraft carriers, to enhance joint planning and training.
Mr. Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup agreed to expand joint exercises, including more live-fire training.
The two ministers also discussed preparing for joint military exercises on the table in February to strengthen the response capacity of the US and South Korea in the event of a North Korean use of nuclear weapons. China has repeatedly expressed anger when the US strengthens military cooperation with South Korea, especially the THAAD high-altitude missile defense systems deployed in the country.
Beijing is concerned that THAAD, with its powerful long-range radar system, could carry out surveillance operations deep inside China when deployed in South Korea.
China has not commented on the increased US-South Korean military exercises, while North Korea said it was ready to respond to US military moves with “the most overwhelming nuclear force”. North Korea says the US and its allies are expanding military drills in the region, which is “sending tensions to an extreme red line”.
Nguyen Tien (Theo AP)