A Philippine Supreme Court in Manila upheld a defense pact between the Asian ally and Washington. The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement provides the Philippines with increased military capability in the tense South China Sea.
The South China Sea is a hotbed because of overlapping territorial claims on islands in the Spratly Archipelago. The area under question is about the size of Iraq and the Philippines are not the only country competing for claims in the Archipelago. Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Brunei also assert claims to the islands and reefs as well. However, China has been heaping sand onto reefs and shoals for quite some time now and the plan is for the islands to support buildings, surveillance equipment, and radar. The former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel scolded China for the island building activity, but China responded that it has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands (the Chinese name for the Spratly Archipelago). Tensions have mounted on these artificial islands since China began testing flights on a new airfield on the Fiery Cross Reef.
The pact between Manila and Washington is meant to keep China from impinging on U.S. military real estate in the region. The pact allows the U.S. military to rotate troops and ships between eight bases in the region, which will allow immediate access to the Spratly Archipelago. An operational line is expected to form in the region and many analysts see it as a dangerous tripwire between China and the U.S.
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