The Philippines agreed to allow the United States to operate eight military bases within the country.
The announcement came as the U.S. and Philippines were given legal permission this week to move forward with a 2014 defense agreement.
The U.S. Defense Department said the United States will be able to use the eight bases to house U.S. troops and other personnel. The United States will be able to move jet fighters and warships to the eight locations, according to the Defense Department.
Philippine and U.S. officials said moving forward with the agreement will keep China from blocking access to the South China Sea.
The announcement drew immediate criticism from China.
Among the facilities that the United States will be allowed to use is Clark Air Base, according to Philippine officials. Clark was built and operated as a U.S. base on the island of Luzon until it was handed over to the Philippines in 1992.
The U.S. pulled troops and equipment out of the Philippines then, as well. The pull out came after the Philippines refused to renew leases for American bases.
The United States is also looking to use its former Naval Base Subic Bay. Officials said talks on that are continuing.
The 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement has been on hold because of a court challenge. But the Philippines Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled the agreement is constitutional, allowing it to move forward.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the return of U.S. troops to the Philippines will help keep the South China Sea open to commerce.
“The United States has indicated our intention to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, whether it be the South China Sea or anywhere else around the world,” Carter said during a meeting this week with Philippine officials in Washington.
An editorial this week in China’s official Xinhua News Agency said the U.S.-Philippines agreement will “only escalate tensions and undermine peace and stability in the region.”
The editorial said the Philippines “appears to be now turning to Uncle Sam to back its ambition to counter China.”
Since the United States left the Philippines more than 20 years ago, China has increased operations in the South China Sea. Tensions have been high lately over China’s building of runways on seven artificial islands. China built the islands on disputed South China Sea reefs.
“Our security interests are becoming increasingly intertwined,” said Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
China claims control over most of the South China Sea. But there are conflicting claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.