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LOOK: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrives in Manila

by Malou Talosig-Bartolome

UNITED States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III has arrived in Manila Tuesday night in a bid to strengthen military ties with the Philippines amidst the continuing threat of China in the South China Sea.

Austin was on board a US Air Force E4-B aircraft that landed at the Villamor Airbase past 7pm.

US Ambassador to Manila MaryKay Carlson and Philippine senior defense leaders welcomed him.

During his visit to Manila, Austin will meet President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and his Philippine counterpart, Carlito Galvez.

He will also meet with the Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Andres C. Centino and Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo.

Austin just came from a two-day visit to South Korea, another US defense treaty ally.

His two trips in the region highlights Washington’s recognition that “the Indo-Pacific is America’s priority theater of operations.”

“China remains the pacing challenge for the Defense Department and is fomenting policies designed to change the international rules-based order that has guaranteed peace since World War II,” a senior official traveling with Austin said in an interview published by the US Department of Defense.

During the trip, the US official will focus on helping its longtime treaty ally in enhancing defense capabilities and interoperability with the US. Washington claimed such moves are “key to deterring any challenge in the region.”

“Specifically, the security environment is seeing a sharp uptick in destabilizing Chinese operational behavior. These include a major increase in dangerous air-to-air intercepts, as well as destabilizing PRC behavior including swarms of maritime militia vessels in contentious areas of the South China Sea,” the US DOD report said.

Balikatan and EDCA

The US and the Philippines are targeting “to build on the Balikatan exercise” in 2022.

“We executed the largest iteration ever of our annual Balikatan exercise in its long history with around 9,000 troops across our military services, Coast Guard’s and special forces,” the official said. “We’re really looking forward to building on these achievements this spring.”

Earlier, Philippine Ambassador to Washington DC Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez said one of the ideas “on the table” is the holding joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea.

Austin is also expected to discuss “speeding up implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the DOD report said.

EDCA is the bilateral defense agreement that allows the US to establish presence in the country’s military bases, enabling them to rotate troops on a regular basis and operate facilities.

photos courtesy: US Ambassador to Manila MaryKay Carlson Twitter



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