Philippines seeks to strengthen US defence ties

File photo of Philippines-US joint military exercises The US continues to conduct joint military exercises with the Philippines

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The Philippines has confirmed that it is discussing ways to "maximise" defence ties with the US amid territorial disputes in the region.

In a statement, the foreign affairs secretary cited the need for more joint military exercises to protect national interests.

The statement was in response to a Washington Post story alleging a possible return of US bases.

Analysts say the move is an attempt to contain the influence of China.

The Philippines accused China last year of intimidation in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, which is home to valuable shipping lanes and which may also hold deposits of fossil fuels.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, however, did not address the issue of China in his statement.

"It is to our definite advantage to be exploring how to maximise our treaty alliance with the United States in ways that would be mutually acceptable and beneficial," he said.

Officials are currently in Washington discussing defence issues.

The Washington Post on Wednesday reported that officials were possibly in the early stages of negotiating the return of US bases to the country, "the latest in a series of strategic moves aimed at China".

He added that in the event of possible threats to national interest, "in terms of, say, territorial disputes", a "minimum credible defence" was needed in addition to dealing with the issues diplomatically.

In addition to military equipment and training programmes, Mr Del Rosario said that they were open to exploring "other means of acceptable assistance and cooperation from the US", including "a rotating and more frequent presence by them".

The joint military exercises will be subject to the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement, which covers conditions for US ships and American troops allowed into the country.

The Philippines became a US colony after a brief war early last century. It eventually attained full independence in 1946 but the US maintained a presence on military bases.

These bases , which included the famous Subic Bay naval base in Zambales, were eventually voted out by the Senate in 1991, bringing to an end almost a century of US military presence.

A US official dismissed the suggestion that bases could be re-established.

"The idea that we are looking to establish US bases or permanently station US forces in the Philippines, or anywhere else in South East Asia, as part of a China containment strategy is patently false," AP quoted Defense Department spokeswoman Cmdr Leslie Hull-Ryde as saying.

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