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U.S. defense chief visits Philippines amid sea dispute with China
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter arrived in the Philippines on Wednesday to highlight strong and growing military relations with a crucial Southeast Asian ally as China assertively pursues its claims in the South China Sea.
Carter's visit comes as the two countries conduct joint military exercises and on the heels of an agreement that allows a U.S. military presence at five Philippine bases, one of which Carter plans to visit on this week's trip.
While the initial agreement allows for five bases, Carter told reporters while on the way to the Philippines that there would be more in future.
Defense officials from the Philippines and Vietnam will also meet this week to explore possible joint exercises and navy patrols, military sources said, shoring up a new alliance between states locked in maritime rows with China.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the waters, through which about $5 trillion in trade is shipped every year.
The U.S. defense chief's visit also takes place weeks before a ruling is expected on an arbitration case the Philippines has brought against China in The Hague.
The United States believes that whatever the tribunal's decision, it will be binding on both China and the Philippines, but China has refused to recognize the case and says all disputes should be resolved through bilateral talks.
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