President Obama on Monday championed the signing of a pact that would grant American forces access to Philippine military bases, a move that increases the American footprint in Asia but one the president insisted was not meant to antagonize China.
Under the 10-year agreement finalized Monday, the U.S. would receive access to selected military camps in the Philippines and have the ability to position ships and planes in the region.
“Our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China,” Obama said during a press conference Monday with Philippine President Benigno Aquino.
“Our goal is to make sure that international rules and norms are respected, and that includes in the area of maritime disputes,” he added. “We do not have claims in this area territorially.”
However, the Philippines has long sought greater international support for territorial disputes with China, and the rising superpower is already viewing the new agreement with suspicion. The Philippine military has lacked the capabilities to issue much of a deterrent to China.
Still, Obama tried to placate concerns among some in the Philippines about an expanded U.S. role in the country.
“I want to be very clear: The United States is not trying to reclaim old bases or build new bases,” he said. “At the invitation of the Philippines, American service members will rotate through Filipino facilities.”
Though Obama hailed the military pact, he was unable to finalize a Pacific trade agreement resisted by many of his fellow Democrats in Washington.
Obama on Tuesday will travel to the U.S. military cemetery at Fort Bonifacio before returning home to Washington.