The Philippine military has revived plans to build new air and naval bases at Subic Bay, a former U.S. naval base that American forces could use to counter China’s creeping presence in the disputed South China Sea, senior navy officials said.
The proposed bases in the Philippines, a close US ally, coincides with a resurgence of US warships, planes and personnel in the region as Washington turns its attention to a newly assertive China and shifts its foreign, economic and security policy towards Asia.
The bases would allow the Philippines to station warships and fighter jets just 124 nautical miles from Scarborough Shoal, a contentious area of the South China Sea now controlled by China after a tense standoff last year.
The Philippine navy, whose resources and battle capabilities are no match for China’s growing naval might, has yet to formally present its 10-billion-peso ($230 million) base development plan to President Benigno Aquino.
“The chances of this plan taking off under President Aquino are high because his administration has been very supportive in terms of equipment upgrade,” said a senior military officer who asked not to be identified.
“The people around him understood our needs and more importantly, what our country is facing at this time.”
Subic, a deep-water port sheltered by jungle-clad mountains 80 km (50 miles) north of Manila, has been a special economic zone since US forces were evicted in 1992, ending 94 years of American military presence in the Philippines and shutting the largest US military installation in Southeast Asia.
Since then, American warships and planes have been allowed to visit the Philippines for maintenance and refueling.
US military “rotations” through the Philippines have become more frequent as Beijing grows more assertive in the South China Sea, a vast expanse of mineral-rich waters and vital sea lanes claimed entirely by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and in part by Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines – one of Asia’s biggest security flashpoints.
The plan has taken on added urgency since a tense two-month standoff last year between Chinese and Philippine ships at the Scarborough Shoal, which is only about 124 nautical miles off the Philippine coast. Chinese ships now control the shoal, often chasing away Filipino fishermen.
US and Philippine navy ships begin war games near the shoal on Thursday.
Rise in US Navy visits
There is no plan to allow the United States to rebuild its old bases, a sensitive issue in the Philippines where a nationalist backlash against the US military helped lead to the 1992 closure of Subic and Clark Air Base.
New Philippine air and naval bases, however, would give visiting US warships more security to launch operations in the South China Sea and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. A Visiting Forces Agreement, ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999, allows US forces full access to Philippine bases.
This year alone, 72 US warships and submarines visited Subic, compared with 88 for all of 2012, 54 in 2011 and 51 in 2010, according to official data.
The Philippine military also wants to revive an airstrip that once handled some of the largest military aircraft in the US arsenal. The former Cubi Point Naval Air Station, carved out of a mountain adjoining Subic, served FedEx Corp cargo plans [sic] after the US forces withdrew.
Another Philippine navy officer said the arrival in a few weeks of a second Hamilton-class cutter from the United States would put pressure on the navy to find a suitable port for large warships.
“We’ve seen a lot of similar ‘joint use’ arrangement. The US does not want bases, only access,” a Philippine navy captain familiar with the Subic proposal told Reuters.
“We will share our bases with them and I am sure the US would love them.”
Full article: PHL plans air, naval bases in Subic with access for US forces (GMA News Online)