Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr assured China that military bases accessible to the United States would not be used in any offensive action, stressing the arrangement with Washington was designed to boost his country’s defences.
China’s foreign ministry last week said the US strengthening military deployment in the Philippines would only lead to more tension in the region after Manila allowed Washington access to more of its bases.
“China’s reaction was not surprising,” Marcos told reporters on Monday.
“We will not allow our bases to be used for any offensive actions. This is only aimed at helping the Philippines whenever we need help,” Marcos added.
“If no one is attacking us, they need not worry because we will not fight them.”
The Philippines identified last week four more of its bases the US will get access to, almost doubling the number included in its Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
The locations of the bases are significant, with three facing north towards Taiwan and one near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, where China has built artificial islands equipped with runways and missile systems.
EDCA underlines the strategic importance of the Philippines to the former colonial ruler, the US, coming at a time of growing concern over China’s conduct in the South China Sea and tension over self-ruled Taiwan.
Signed in 2014, it allows the US access to Philippine bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and building of facilities such as runways, fuel storage and military housing, but it is not a permanent presence.
The comments from Marcos came on the heels of China’s third day of war games around Taiwan concluded on Monday, where it simulated “sealing off” the self-ruled island.
China launched the military exercises in response to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen last week meeting US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, an encounter it had warned would provoke a furious response.
Marcos’s remarks also come in the run-up to the largest-ever joint military exercises between the Philippines and the US, which will feature for the first time live-fire exercises at sea.