Thirty years after leaving what was once Washington’s largest military base in Asia, American forces will return to Subic Bay in the Philippines amid rising tensions with China in the Asia-Pacific region.
Tokyo-based Kyodo News reports that under the mutual Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, Washington and Manila are discussing the creation of five more sites in the Philippines for the construction of US military facilities and the deployment of weapons.
Following China’s military exercises and aggressive posture, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said in an interview with Japan’s Nikkei in September that Manila would offer US forces access to Philippine military bases, provided it was “essential” to the country’s “own personal power”. security.”
The Philippines is a key US ally in a region across the South China Sea in close geographical proximity to China. The country’s bases will therefore play a crucial role in any US operation to counter Beijing’s anti-access/area-denial military doctrine and to provide emergency assistance to Taiwan in the event of a military attack.
Established in 1901, Subic Bay was the first US military base in the Philippines after the country was captured by American forces from Spain in 1898. During the Cold War, Washington and Manila shared close military cooperation.
Subic Naval Base earned a reputation as the largest US naval installation in the country and played a vital role in supply and maintenance during the Vietnam War and the Cold War.
Similarly, nearby Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines became the largest air base for the American military outside of the United States and was a vital link to US forces in the region. It should be noted that Clark Air Base, located on the island of Luzon in the north of the Philippines, is close to Taiwan, located across the Luzon Strait.
But support for permanent military bases in the Philippines also declined following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and growing anti-US sentiment.
Despite the government’s efforts, the Philippine Senate rejected a proposal to extend the military base agreement in September 1991. Following a vote in the Senate, the US flag was lowered on November 24, 1992 to mark the closure of the American military base in Subic Bay.
Subic Bay has since become a bustling free port, employing about 150,000 locals and managed by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).
According to Kyodo News, on November 9, US Ambassador to the Philippines Mary Kay Carlson visited Subic Bay and the shipyard. Two Chinese firms wanted to take control of the shipyard, but Washington stepped in and it was bought by a private US company this year, according to a senior Philippine official.
The Philippine Navy has also begun occupying part of the shipyard as a new naval base, the report added.
After several negotiations, Manila only allowed the United States to rotate its troops for extended stays and to build and operate military facilities in Philippine bases for both American and Philippine forces. However, the United States is not allowed to establish a permanent military base in the country.
In recent years, the Philippines has sought to balance its close partnership with the United States while maintaining a rocky relationship with China. But Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, where it has conflicting claims with Manila, has fueled tensions between the two countries.
The latest standoff between the two countries was reported on Sunday when a Chinese Coast Guard ship intercepted and “forcibly” seized space junk being towed by a Philippine naval vessel near the Philippine-controlled island of Thitu. Manila sought clarification from Beijing on Thursday after the incident.