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Discussion needed on how US can use Philippines bases — DFA chief

WASHINGTON - Washington and Manila will need to discuss what the US may do with its access to certain military bases in the Philippines, Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo said on Monday.

The Philippines last week identified four more military bases that the US may access amid shared concerns about China's growing might.

Speaking a day before the first combined meeting of US and Philippine foreign and defense ministers in seven years, Manalo urged dialogue and engagement between Washington and Beijing.

He told Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies that the so-called 2+2 meeting between the longtime allies on Tuesday "highlights the positive trajectory of our bilateral relations, which is happening now at all levels."

Experts say the US sees the Philippines as a potential location for rockets, missiles and artillery systems to counter a Chinese amphibious invasion of Taiwan, which China claims as its own.

Asked whether the Philippines would allow such systems for that purpose as part of expanded access under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), Manalo said:

"We basically identified the sites. There will have to be, as in the case of the other sites, discussions on terms of reference, the type of activities ... these all have to be agreed on ... It will all depend on how discussions go."

The Pentagon has not specifically said what the additional sites will be used for, except that work would include airport expansion and training involving naval assets.

EDCA allows 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 not a permanent presence.

US-Philippines relations have warmed considerably under Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, but Manila treads a delicate path with China, the region's economic powerhouse.

Marcos assured China earlier on Monday that military bases accessible to the U.S. would not be used in offensive action, stressing that the arrangement with Washington was designed to boost his country's defenses.

The remarks came ahead of the largest ever US-Philippines joint military exercises, which will feature live-fire exercises at sea for the first time.

Locations of the new EDCA bases are significant, with three facing north toward Taiwan and one near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, where China has built artificial islands with runways and missile systems.

China said last week that strengthened US military deployments in the Philippines would lead to more regional tensions.

Manalo said Manila wanted a more robust economic relationship with the US and saw a growing need for US capital investment in areas including agriculture, food security, clean energy, transport and digital infrastructure. -- Reuters