US Vice President arrives in Philippines to reaffirm security ties – The Diplomat

ASEAN Beat | Security | South East Asia

Kamala Harris is the senior Biden administration official to visit the country, marking a resurgence in ties after the tensions of the Duterte years.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visits a market in Bangkok while attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit November 18-19 in Bangkok, Thailand.

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After attending the APEC Summit in Bangkok last week, US Vice President Kamala Harris will arrive today for a three-day visit to the Philippines to renew and reaffirm US defense commitments to the country. She is scheduled to meet with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and other senior officials in Manila today, after which she will fly to Palawan, the Philippines’ westernmost island, to meet with “residents, civil society leaders and representatives of the Philippine Coast Guard.” “

Harris will be the senior American official to visit the needle-shaped island, which lies adjacent to the disputed Spratly Islands, where China’s maximalist “nine-dash-line” sea claim cuts a swath through the waters claimed by the Philippines. Palawan’s capital, Puerto Princesa, is also home to the Municipality of Kalayaan, which administers the scattered Filipino settlements on the Spratly Islands.

Given its proximity to disputed regions of the South China Sea, Harris will no doubt voice Washington’s concerns about China’s assertive behavior pattern in the South China Sea and his support for the 2016 international tribunal ruling, brought by the Philippines in 2013, invalidating China’s “Nine- dash-line”.

Ahead of the visit, Reuters quoted a senior Biden administration official as saying, “The vice president will underscore our commitment to standing up for international rules and norms because we recognize the impact this is having on the lives and livelihoods of the Philippines.” After meeting Coast Guard officials who are inspecting a Coast Guard vessel in Palawan tomorrow, she will speak on “principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and freedom of navigation,” the official told the news outlet.

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The visit could also include a formal announcement of the US plan to spend $66.5 million to build new training and storage facilities at three Philippine military bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The agreement, announced by the Philippine Defense Ministry last week, focuses on Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija and Lumbia Airport Base Station in Cagayan de Oro.

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EDCA, which allowed the US to deploy conventional forces in the Philippines at five Manila-chosen Philippine bases, was signed in 2014 but lapsed under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte (2016-22), which distanced and deepened the Philippines from its longtime ally Commitment to and rhetorical support for China.

Among the other bases that fall under EDCA is Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan. Contrary to earlier reports by the Philippine Defense Ministry, the senior administration official, quoted by Reuters, said the US pledge totaled $82 million and would include 21 projects at the five Philippine bases.

Harris will also be the senior Biden administration official to visit the Philippines, in the latest sign of a revival in bilateral security ties after the Duterte years and shattering previous suggestions that the Marcos clan’s contentious past is impeding constructive ties would Washington. As the senior administration official told Reuters, Harris will “inform President Marcos that we are pleased to see our security relationship in such a strong position.”

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The US is clearly looking to capitalize on the opening-up that has accompanied the change in administration, with recent reports claiming that it has proposed building five additional facilities under EDCA, including a reported second base on Palawan.