The Philippines will reopen a former US naval base and domicile its fighter jets and frigates after 23 years, as a response to Chinese claims in the disputed South China Sea, the country’s officials said on Thursday.
US Naval Base Subic Bay, located on the west coast of the island of Luzon in Zambales, Philippines had been one of the world’s biggest facilities until the Philippines terminated the contract with the US in 1992. The naval base was converted into an economic zone afterwards.
According to the Philippine Defence Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, an agreement between the Philippine military and the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority which is the operator of the zone, will allow the bay to be used as a military facility under a renewable 15-year lease.
Security officials believe that using Subic Bay as a naval base will give the Philippine military a great opportunity to counter Chinese military ambition in the disputed waters.
“The value of Subic as a military base was proven by the Americans. Chinese defence planners know that,” said Rommel Banlaoi, a Philippine security expert.
Despite international condemnation, China keeps its massive reclamation projects going, building airstrips and military facilities in the region.
In the bay, two FA-50 light attack fighters, a full squadron of FA-50s and the fifth fighter wing will be stationed starting early 2016, said two Philippine generals, adding that two naval frigates will also be placed at the bay’s Alava Port.
After the announcement of the decision to reopen a naval base in the disputed region, Beijing said they are aware of the plans.
"We hope that the Philippines does more to benefit regional peace and stability," China's defense ministry reportedly said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Philippine military announced in July a $20 billion overhaul for its armed forces over the next 13 years to enhance its security cooperation with the United States, Japan and Vietnam.