US-Philippines foreign & defense officials to meet in Washington

The top foreign and defense officials of the United States and the Philippines will meet in Washington next week, the U.S. State Department announced
FILE PHOTO: Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo delivers a message during a media event in Manila, Philippines, August 16, 2022.
FILE PHOTO: Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo delivers a message during a media event in Manila, Philippines, August 16, 2022. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo

(Reuters) - The top foreign and defense officials of the United States and the Philippines will meet in Washington next week, the U.S. State Department announced on Wednesday, just as the two countries have expanded their defense cooperation agreement.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will receive Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo and defense chief Carlito Galvez on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a virtual joint news conference with Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo at the Peninsula Hotel in Manila, Philippines, August 6, 2022.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a virtual joint news conference with Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo at the Peninsula Hotel in Manila, Philippines, August 6, 2022. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

The announcement of the meeting of the two longtime allies came after the Philippines on Monday identified four more of its military bases that the United States will get access to under an expansion of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

The near doubling of EDCA sites was achieved at a time of growing concern over China's conduct in the South China Sea and tension over self-ruled Taiwan.

The EDCA, signed in 2014 under U.S. President Barack Obama, allows U.S. access to Philippine bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and building of facilities such as runways, fuel storage and military housing.

The sites named on Monday are the Camilo Osias navy base in Sta Ana and Lal-lo airport, both in Cagayan province, and Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela province and the island of Balabac off Palawan.

The locations are significant, with Isabela and Cagayan facing north towards Taiwan, while Palawan is near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, where China has built artificial islands equipped with runways and missile systems.

The decision of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to expand the U.S. access was made in February but the announcement of the sites was delayed by opposition from some local government leaders concerned about being caught up in a future conflict between the United States and China.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta, editing by Donna Bryson & Shri Navaratnam)

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