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US set to boost military presence in Philippines


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US forces are set for an "increased rotational presence" in the Philippines, following negotiations in Manila. The two countries aim to counter China's growing ambitions in the region. The Pentagon currently conducts a regular joint exercise and has a rotating force of 500 troops in the Southern Philippines, but may send more soldiers and advanced equipment, or upgrade local facilities. Officials say that no specifics have been laid out in the first round of a four-stage negotiation. "There should be a focus on high-impact, high-value training exercises and activities that would focus on maritime security, maritime domain awareness and our perennial problem with disasters," said Defense Undersecretary Pio Batino, who was present at the discussion. The Philippines was a US colony between 1898 and 1946, and the presence of American troops remains a controversial issue. The US abandoned its last base in the South Asian country in 1992. But tensions in the region have escalated as in the past decade Beijing began to lay forceful claims to almost the entirety of the South China Sea (which the Philippines calls West Philippine Sea), that rounds the coastlines of most of the states in the region. As disputes over potentially lucrative sea lanes and underground mineral resources have grown more bitter, Manila has made diplomatic appeals to the UN over what it calls "excessive claims", and has sought greater assistance from the United States. After years of being bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, Washington has also re-directed its foreign policy towards Asia, signing a docking agreement for its warships with Singapore, and bolstering its troop numbers in Australia. Officials say that even when finalized, the new agreement will not specify exact troop numbers, and those will have to be negotiated on an annual basis. http://rt.com/



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