PHILIPPINE President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Sunday said the government’s decision to give the United States access to four more military bases is not meant to increase tensions in the South China Sea.

 “It’s a valid concern and is something that we have to pay attention to,” he told reporters on his return flight from his working visit to Tokyo, based on a transcript sent by the presidential palace.

He was referring to the possibility of more US access increasing tension in the region. “We do not want to be seen as… provocative to anyone.”

On Feb. 2, the Marcos government gave increased US access to military bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

Under the 2014 deal, Philippine military bases may be used for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and building facilities such as runways, fuel storage and military housing.

“I always think about the agreement because we always say we want a peaceful [region] and that there will be safe passage,” Mr. Marcos said.

The South China Sea, a key global shipping route, is subject to overlapping territorial claims involving China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Trillions of dollars flow through the sea, which is also rich in fish and gas.

China has said greater US access to Philippine military bases undermine regional stability.

“The statement is a de facto admission by President Marcos that adding EDCA sites expectedly will annoy China,” Jaime B. Naval, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“It is his way of parrying accusations or criticisms that he may be steering the Philippines, and even the region to perilous routes,” he said. “It is a diplomatic way of massaging China’s back in what is actually a reconfiguring of the security landscape, not only with reference to our alliance with the US but also with respect to calibrating alignments and force deployments which would connect to contingencies as in Taiwan, the South China Sea, East China Sea and even the Korean peninsula.

Last week, Philippine lawmakers said the deal would help deter China’s aggression in the South China Sea.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who met with Mr. Marcos in Manila early this month, said the Philippine-US alliance “makes both of our democracies more secure and helps uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

“That’s just part of our efforts to modernize our alliance,” he said. “And these efforts are especially important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea.” — J.V.D. Ordoñez