The Obama administration and Philippine officials are in talks about expanding military cooperation, including joint exercises in the Pacific, but adding American bases to the island nation is off the table, both countries said on Thursday.
Talks with the Philippines, a U.S. ally which voted to remove huge American naval and air bases 20 years ago, follow Washington's announcement of plans to set up a Marine base in northern Australia and possibly station warships in Singapore. Those moves come as part of the Obama's administration plans to enhance American presence in Asia because of the region's economic importance and China's rise as a military power.
Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told The Associated Press that any additional joint military activity would conform with the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement, a bilateral accord that allows U.S. ship visits and American troops to hold joint military exercises in the Philippines. There would be no discussion on bringing back permanent U.S. military bases in the country, he said.
“U.S bases in the Philippines would be out of the question,” Peter Galvez, acting chief of staff to the secretary of national defense, told the New York Times on Thursday.
Pentagon spokesman Leslie Hullryde also denied talk of bases in the Philippines to Reuters.
"We are holding a bilateral strategic dialogue, during which we will discuss a broad range of issues, including our cooperation on counterterrorism, counter-proliferation, disaster preparedness, border security, and human rights," Hullryde said. “… The idea that we are looking to establish U.S. bases or permanently station U.S. forces in the Philippines - or anywhere else in Southeast Asia - as part of a China containment strategy is patently false," Hullryde said.
The Washington Post first reported on Wednesday that negotiations that would lead to a return of U.S. bases to the Philippines were in the early stages. Officials from both governments were quoted as saying they were favorably inclined toward a deal.
The Obama administration describes the moves as part of a "pivot" toward economically dynamic Asia designed to reassure allies who felt neglected during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, but China sees the deployments as part of a broader U.S. attempt to encircle it as it grows into a major power.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
More from msnbc.com and NBC News: