In light of increasing Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea, an Australian defense and security expert has suggested that the country build a military base on Pag-asa Island.

Carlyle Thayer, a professor emeritus at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the Australian Defense Force Academy (ADFA), made the recommendation in a recent online talk organized by the National Youth Movement for the West Philippine Sea (NYMWPS).

Thayer argued that opening a military base on Pag-asa Island and other facilities in the region would demonstrate Philippine sovereignty over the area. Pag-asa Island, also known as Thitu, is the largest in the Kalayaan Islands Group (KIG) and is home to a population of over 400 people. It serves as the seat of the local government of Kalayaan municipality in Palawan and is located 277 miles from Puerto Princesa City and 579 miles from Manila.

He also recommended that the Philippines strengthen its military cooperation with Australia and Japan and expand its treaties with them and the US.

“It is imperative that signatories of these treaties clarify and present the same position to China that this is unacceptable behavior,” Thayer said, citing the illegal military presence of China in the South China Sea (SCS).

The Philippines’ Mutual Defense Treaty, Status of Forces Agreement, and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US provide defense consultation, collaboration, and capability building for maritime security.

According to him, the three agreements allow the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard to visit conflict zones more often. This opens the door for increased naval training and operations with nations like the US, which may help resupply crucial units like those in Ayungin Shoal.

These accords, however, are “provocative” to China because they jeopardize its illegitimate possession of the territory, he said.

“[But] there is no ground for neutrality in China’s massive military threat. Don’t trust Chinese intentions,” he added.

Under the terms of the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has given the US permission to visit four more locations in addition to the five that were already in place.

The Chinese embassy in Manila opposes this, saying the extension of the EDCA “will seriously harm Philippine national interests and endanger regional peace and stability.” President Marcos has allowed the U.S. to access four more locations aside from the five existing sites under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

During the online talk, the organizers had to stop because of the emergence of explicit photos and incomprehensible words, which may have been a deliberate attack upon the NYMWPS or Thayer, or they may have merely been a prank.

Regardless, Thayer urged the NYMWPS to continue pursuing its mission and goals.

Dr. Celia Lamkin, a resident of the CNMI and Guam, is the founder and global head of the National Youth Movement for the West Philippine Sea.