Why the United States is increasing military cooperation with a series of Asian countries.

The United States has strengthened its military presence and cooperation in several Asian nations, which is viewed as an effort to reassure allies and heighten deterrence against China.

On February 2, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced an agreement with the Philippines granting the United States access to four additional military bases in this Southeast Asian nation.

Mr. Austin referred to this as a “big deal” to enhance U.S. military presence in the Philippines, despite the bases not being permanent garrisons.

This pact permits the United States to rotate its soldiers in the Philippines, especially on the island of Luzon, which encompasses two strategically vital regions: the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.

According to officials, thousands of U.S. troops are periodically rotated to the Philippines so that at least 500 troops are always present in the nation. They carry out military drills, humanitarian relief, and training, among other responsibilities.

Previously, the Philippines permitted U.S. soldiers to station at five approved bases. With the new agreement, U.S. forces would now have access to nine military locations in the Philippines.

During a joint press conference in Manila with his Philippine colleague Carlito Galvez Jr., Mr. Austin stated that efforts to enhance the military partnership between the two countries are “particularly crucial” as China continues to expand its illegal claims in the South China Sea.

Later, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning slammed the United States for “pursuing a selfish purpose” with the new military deal with the Philippines, describing it as “an act that intensifies tensions and threatens regional peace and stability.”

The United States is increasing its military ties with a wide swath of Asian nations, from Japan to the Solomon Islands, which are close to China. Having to do with pivotal locations close to the East Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

According to A.P. commentator Lolita Baldor, these are U.S. moves to increase deterrence against China and reassure allies in the region of Washington’s commitment.

In January, the United States and Japan reached an agreement whereby the United States would adjust its military presence on Okinawa to “enhance anti-ship capabilities necessary in the event of a conflict breaking out over Taiwan or China to carry out military actions” and “other hostile activities in the East China Sea and South China Sea.”

The two sides also mentioned the “space” element in the US-Japan security treaty, stating that “attacks too, from, and in space” can trigger defense provisions. 

Two airports are set to be constructed by Japan on Megeshima, a southern island. Over the next four years, the two countries will conduct joint drills, landing training, and missile interception.

In a crisis, such as the escalation of hostilities across the Taiwan Strait, Megeshima might serve as a staging area for troops and supplies.

In order to effectively defend American interests and those of its regional allies, the United States plans to reform Okinawa’s 12th Marine Regiment into a smaller, more adaptable, and better-equipped fighting force.

This week, the U.S. State Department also opened an embassy in the Solomon Islands, a move considered a “direct effort to respond to China’s growing influence” in the Pacific island nation.

The United States established a diplomatic presence in the Solomon Islands in the past but dissolved it in 1993 as part of a broader effort to reduce overseas embassies. However, U.S. officials are growing anxious about deteriorating ties with the Solomon Islands as China grows in regional power.

After severing ties with Taiwan in 2019, Solomon Islands leaders 2022 inked a security pact with China. Despite the Solomon Islands’ denials of allowing China to establish a military facility, U.S. officials are concerned that this security treaty may pave the way for China to expand its military footprint in the region.

There has been speculation that U.S. Defense Secretary Austin’s January 31 announcement that the U.S. would deploy more modern weapons to the region was a response to rising tensions with China and its close ally, North Korea.

The United States and South Korea have increased their cooperative planning and training by deploying fighter fighters and aircraft carriers to the peninsula. Mr. Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup agreed upon joint drills, including increased live-fire training.

The US aircraft carrier strike group USS Ronald Reagan participated in joint exercises with South Korea and Japan in September 2022. Photo: US Navy .

The two ministers also addressed the possibility of joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea in February. These drills would be designed to improve the preparedness of both countries to respond to a nuclear attack from North Korea.

THAAD high-altitude missile defense systems are a particular source of ire for China whenever the United States and South Korea work together on military matters. When THAAD is stationed in South Korea, Beijing worries that its powerful long-range radar system will be used to conduct spy activities deep inside China.

Even though North Korea has threatened retaliation with “the most overwhelming nuclear force,” China has remained silent on the expanded joint drills between the United States and South Korea. According to North Korea, an increase in military drills by the United States and its allies has “sent tensions to an extreme red line.”

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