US may lobby Philippines for military basing rights at Bilateral Strategic Dialogue

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific affairs David Stilwell arrives in the Philippines today to lead

us philippine dialgue

Photo: Markus Castaneda/US Navy

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific affairs David Stilwell arrives in the Philippines today to lead the American delegation to the Eighth US-Philippines Bilateral Strategic Dialogue.

Discussions are expected to focus on the mutual defence alliance between the two countries amid rising security risks from China’s militarization of the South China Sea. Threats from China’s presence in the contested area were accentuated this month following unprecedented military drills conducted around the sea’s Paracel and Spratly islands.

But while the two allies are set to develop 12 defence-related projects and conduct up to 280 defence activities this —the highest number among allies in the region—the Dialogue also follows a perceived US failure to respond to Beijing’s continued aggression. Indeed, Philippine Defence Chief Delfin Lorenzana has called for a comprehensive review of the alliance, citing a shifting geopolitical balance in China’s favour.

With the balance of power seemingly tilted toward China, Washington may well seek to enhance its existing security arrangements with the Philippines. One such option would be securing American forces permission to preposition weapons at strategic Philippine bases. Discussions around basing rights at the Bautista Airbase on Palawan island near the hotly contested Spratly island chain, as well as the Cesar Basa Air Base situated near the Scarborough Shoal, could be in the offing in the coming days.

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