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Philippines Seek Talks on Expanding U.S. Access to its Military Bases

The Philippines' Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario is seen at a meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan in this July 1, 2013, file photo.
Philippine officials say the nation is seeking fresh talks with the United States on expanding U.S. access to its military bases, as tensions with China rise over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.

In a joint letter to Philippine lawmakers, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the talks will focus on "a possible framework agreement" for "an increased [U.S.] rotational presence."

U.S. officials by late Thursday had not confirmed any talks, but said a framework agreement would increase opportunities for joint military training and exercises that could include other regional partners.

Manila's push to bolster its defenses comes as China presses maritime claims to most of the mineral and energy-rich South China Sea. For their part, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei are seeking to defend their sea borders against what those governments see as Chinese naval and fishing intrusions.

Earlier this week, the Philippines took formal possession of a refurbished former U.S. Coast Guard cutter obtained under a bilateral military alliance with Washington. The vessel joins another former U.S. cutter recommissioned by the Philippines in 2011.

Vietnam has also welcomed closer military ties with the United States, and has allowed U.S. Navy supply ships to dock for repairs and maintenance in recent years.

Rumors swirled this week in official Vietnamese media that the United States was considering suspending a ban on the export of lethal weapons to the Hanoi government.

However, there has been no official confirmation of those deliberations. Analysts have cautioned against expecting any such concessions from Washington without evidence of significant improvement in Vietnam's human rights record.