Philippines, US eye 2-plus-2 security talks in April

Maricar Cinco and Ken Sasaki, Kyodo News

Posted at Mar 21 2023 01:50 AM


FLORIDABLANCA - The United States and the Philippines will hold security talks involving their foreign and defense chiefs in Washington on April 11, a spokesman of the U.S. Embassy in Manila said Monday, the first such "two-plus-two" talks in about seven years.

The resumption of the dialogue, the schedule of which was also confirmed by a ranking Philippine official, is the latest sign that Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s government is eager to enhance its alliance with the United States in the face of China's assertive behavior in the South China Sea.

The two-plus-two talks between the two countries did not take place under his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who served for six years through June 2022 and was criticized for taking a soft stance with China.

Beijing has militarized outposts in disputed areas of the South China Sea despite a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that invalidated China's sweeping claims in the resource-rich waters.

China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

Also, from April 11, the United States and the Philippines will kick off their annual Balikatan military exercise, the largest by far, with a total of over 17,000 soldiers from the United States, the Philippines and first-time participant Australia joining, Philippine defense chief Carlito Galvez said at a ceremony for the rehabilitation of a Philippine air base runway in Floridablanca.

Galvez also told a press conference that a trilateral security partnership involving the United States and Japan "might be an aspiration" the Philippines can pursue.

Marcos mentioned such a tripartite agreement during his visit to Japan in February. He told an interview with Kyodo News that it should be part of the process of strengthening trilateral ties in "confusing" and "dangerous" situations.

Galvez, meanwhile, said plans are underway for Manila and Tokyo toward signing a Visiting Forces Agreement so that Japan's Self-Defense Forces can take part in joint military exercises in the Philippines.

The Philippines and the United States agreed to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement in 2014, which is a supplement to the Visiting Forces Agreement between the two countries that allows the United States to build facilities and position assets in key Philippine military bases.