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South China Sea Standoff
Philippines to Reopen Huge Old U.S. Naval Base

It’s a fixer upper, but the old U.S. Navy base at Subic bay in the Philippines used to be one of the largest U.S. naval bases in the world. Now, Manila is refurbishing and reopening it as part of a $20 billion military modernization project aimed at standing up to China. Because of its location and its deep water port, Subic Bay is a major strategic asset, one that will house, according to the plan, both high speed jets and littoral combat ships. The Guardian reports:

Defence undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino told Reuters the Philippine military signed an agreement in May with the zone’s operator, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, to use parts of the installation under a renewable 15-year lease. It marks the first time the massive installation has functioned as a military base in 23 years. […]

Using Subic Bay would allow the Philippine air force and navy to respond more effectively to Chinese moves in the disputed South China Sea, security experts said. Subic Bay’s deep-water harbour lies on the western side of the main Philippine island of Luzon, opposite the South China Sea.

“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.

The Philippines is pressing its case against China in court, but that’s unlikely to constrain the country even if the court sides against Beijing. Manila knows that ultimately it’s a weak power in its region and is therefore working outside the courtroom to change the calculus. Before this news, the most it had done recently was reinforce the rusted out shell of a beached ship that’s served as a remote outpost in the Spratlys. The Subic base project is in a league of its own.

The big question that might be on the minds of Beijing’s strategists is whether the U.S. will be able to use the base as well. Washington and Manila signed a defense deal in 2014 that would allow U.S. forces to use Philippine bases on a rotating basis. However, the deal’s constitutionality was challenged, and the issue hangs in the balance as a Philippine court adjudicates. If the agreement makes it through the legal gauntlet, the American and Philippine militaries both get access to a key base across from the South China Sea. From Beijing’s perspective, that’s just the kind of thing that might change a strategic calculus about one’s military advantage.

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  • tarentius

    Much ado about nothing. The Filipino Air Force and Navy are a joke. And the Filipinos lack the expertise and funds to bring Subic Bay up to a standard that could be used by modern combat aircraft and surface ships. Unless the Philippines is willing to allow the US to upgrade Subic and station US Navy and Air Force assets on it. there is nothing to this.The story borders on being a joke.

    • Jacksonian_Libertarian

      The Chinese are extremely vulnerable to a strategic blockade of their ports. Even a hint that pieces are being put in place to enforce such a blockade must terrify they Chinese. 40% of China’s economy is directly dependent on exports and imports. It is said that “Captains should study tactics, but General MUST study logistics.”. When China’s belligerence starts a region wide war, the blockade will cause the Chinese economy to implode by 50%-75%. No modern nation has ever suffered such a steep economic fall, and China will be unable to recover any of its world markets afterwards.

      • tarentius

        And the Philippine’s Navy and Air Force are going to effect that blockade? LOL.

  • SineWaveII

    Sorry. We liberated you ingrates once at great expense. Not interested a second time. Enjoy your Chinese overlords.

    • Teacher_in_Tejas

      Hey my wife is Filipina and she has repeatedly told me that the decision of that post-Aquino government was not popular with the people, and most of the population wanted the US to stay. I for one do not wish to see my wife’s homeland under the Chinese thumb.

      • SineWaveII

        I feel for you. But the facts are the facts and they are.
        1. The Philippine government kicked us out and the people did nothing to stop it.
        2 We’re nearly twenty trillion in debt with a downgraded military and very soon we’ll be lucky if we’ll be able to take care of ourselves.
        3. Liberating them again (if it becomes necessary) will take another Douglas MacArthur and we’re fresh out of those. Any future MacArthur we might have had has been purged by obama. And I don’t see any future MacArthurs joining our military .

  • Terenc Blakely

    It’s a popular game in Japan and other ‘western’ asian countries to blame the US for ‘stirring up’ problems in asia. Kinda wonder how the Japanese would feel if the US did walk away and tell them they are on their own, they’d be so screwed.

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