Washington (AFP) – The United States is expanding its military presence in Asia, in a series of moves aimed at countering Beijing and reassuring allies in the Indo-Pacific that America will stand by them against threats from China and North Korea.
American actions extend from Japan to the Solomon Islands. It includes more and more advanced military exercises in the region and additional troop rotations in key areas facing the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. In some cases, they can also provide logistical support in the event of any conflict with China, specifically to defend the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own.
The ads in recent weeks have drawn angry responses from both China and North Korea. They come as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to head to China next week in what will be the first visit by a cabinet-level official in the Biden administration.
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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, on his seventh trip to Asia in his two years in office, announced that agreement with the Philippines This Thursday gives the United States access to four other military camps in the Southeast Asian country.
He described it as a “big deal” even though it does not establish a permanent US military presence, which is prohibited by the Philippine constitution. What it does, however, do is give American forces — who rotate in and out of the Philippines — an overview of two critical points: the Taiwan Strait and the disputed areas of the South China Sea.
There are about 500 US troops in the Philippines on any given day, but thousands rotate in and out of the Philippines over the course of a year to conduct military exercises, humanitarian aid, training and other missions, according to the officials. The Philippines allows US troops to remain in barracks within designated Philippine camps. The United States already had access to five Philippine military bases.
Standing with his Filipino counterpart, Carlito Galvez Jr., during a press conference in Manila, Austin said the effort to strengthen the alliance is “particularly important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea.”
In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning accused the US of pursuing its “selfish agenda” with the new arrangement, describing it as “an act that escalates tensions in the region and endangers regional peace and stability”.
He and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sob agreed to expand their joint military exercises, including more live-fire displays. They discussed preparations for a simulated exercise in February aimed at honing their response if North Korea used nuclear weapons.
North Korea has test-fired dozens of missiles in 2022, including potentially nuclear-capable missiles designed to strike targets in South Korea and the mainland United States.
The United States resumed large-scale military exercises last year, including an air exercise involving US strategic bombers in November, in an intensified effort to deter Pyongyang. The allies have scaled back the exercises in recent years to make room for diplomacy with North Korea during the Trump administration and due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response, North Korea said it was ready to counter US military moves with “the most dominant nuclear power”. It said the expansion of military exercises is pushing tensions to an “extreme red line”.
They also added a formal reference to outer space in the long-standing US-Japan Security Treaty, explaining that “attacks to, from, and within space” could trigger the treaty’s mutual defense provisions. And Japan has announced that it will start building two runways on the small southern island of Magishima where it could begin joint exercises, amphibious operations and missile interception in about four years.
The island would be a center for troop deployment and ammunition supply in the event of a conflict such as the emergency in Taiwan.
Changes to the American deployment to Okinawa would transform the 12th Marine Regiment into a smaller, more agile unit—the 12th Coastal Marine Regiment, which would be better equipped to fight the enemy and defend the United States and its allies in the region.
On the diplomatic front, the United States He opened an embassy in the Solomon Islands This week, in a direct attempt to counter China’s growing influence there. There was an embassy in the Solomon Islands for several years, but it was closed in 1993 as part of a global reduction in diplomatic posts. However, over time, the United States became concerned about possible poor relations with the country.
The Solomon Islands switched allegiance from the self-ruled island of Taiwan to Beijing in 2019. Last year, the Solomon Islands signed a security pact with China, prompting fears of a military build-up by Beijing in the region.
The US State Department said reopening an embassy there was a priority to counter China’s growing influence in the region. The embassy in the capital, Honiara, started out small, with a chargé d’affaires, two foreign ministry staff, and a few local staff.
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