US preparing to face down China in the South China Sea – while locals expect ‘bonanza of riches’ from return of American sailors

American flags fly fore and aft on the US missile cruiser Shiloh as it docks at a pier across a narrow waterway from decrepit, decaying buildings of an abandoned US naval base at Subic Bay. The dock was once a bulwark of American power in the South China Sea after US forces seized the base from the Spanish in 1899.

At the end of a long walkway from the pier to shore, eager shopkeepers again sell souvenirs and taxi drivers lie in wait for sailors primed for a night of carousing in the bars of Olongapo, the base town in the Philippines. Now, nearly a quarter of a century after the US Navy had to give up its Subic Bay base and the Clark Air Base across the Zambales mountains to the east, Americans are once again ready to defend the Philippines, and the region.

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