WASHINGTON, March 18 (Reuters) - The United States and the Philippines have agreed on five locations for U.S. military facilities in the Philippines under a security deal agreed amid rising tensions with China, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Amy Searight said the deal was reached under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed last year that grants Washington increased military presence in its former colony through rotation of ships and planes for humanitarian and maritime security operations.
Searight told the opening of the annual U.S.-Philippines Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in Washington that Manila was a "critical U.S. ally" and ties had never been stronger.
She did not detail the locations but said U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter would visit the Philippines in April to discuss implementation of the agreement.
Searight also said the Pentagon had told the U.S. Congress of its intention to provide $50 million to help build maritime security in the region and that the Philippines would get "the lion's share."
The funds are expected to go towards improving radar and other monitoring capabilities in the South China Sea, where China's pursuit of territorial claims has raised U.S. concerns and those of rival claimants like the Philippines.
In January, the Philippines said it had offered eights bases for U.S. use, including the former U.S. air force base of Clark and the former U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay, as well as two sites on Palawan island, near the South China Sea.
Philippines Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino said Manila was pleased with the finalization of the locations.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said the deal would speed U.S. help in response to natural disasters and facilitate modernization of the Philippines armed forces.
He said it came at an important time ahead of a ruling in a case the Philippines has brought against China over its South China Sea claims in the International Court of Arbitration in the Hague.
On Thursday, the U.S. Navy said it had seen activity around a reef China seized from the Philippines nearly four years ago that could be a precursor to more Chinese land reclamation in the South China Sea.
Admiral John Richardson also expressed concern that the Hague ruling, which is expected in late May, could prompt Beijing to declare an exclusion zone in what is one of the world's busiest trade routes. (Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by James Dalgleish)
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