The Philippines said a former US naval base facing the South China Sea could play a key role as a hub for American ships as Washington moves to boost its presence in the Asia Pacific.
Formerly the US military's largest facility overseas, the Subic Bay naval base north of Manila has been transformed into a freeport and tourism zone since it was shut down in 1992.
But a senior Philippine official pointed out that, with the United States planning to shift the bulk of its fleet to the Pacific by 2020 as it focuses on Asia, it would need natural deep-water bays to dock its ships and submarines.
"Based on US official pronouncements, there is a strategic rebalancing [of its forces] and that means more assets, more aircraft in the Western Pacific," said Edilberto Adan, a former general who heads the government's Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) commission.
"There are very few ports that can accommodate naval assets and naval carriers, and one of them is Subic. As the US begins to implement [the shift], Subic will play an important role because it is one of the important facilities that can service their presence in the Pacific."
Adan spoke at Subic Bay aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious Marine Expeditionary Unit assault ship taking part in a 10-day joint exercises with Filipino forces.
Subic, along with the nearby Clark Airbase, were key facilities for the United States, the former colonial ruler of the Philippines, during the second world war and later during the Vietnam War.
But, amid strong nationalist sentiment and street protests calling for the US troops to leave the Philippines, the Senate voted in 1992 to end a lease agreement that allowed the bases to operate.
The Philippines, however, ratified a visiting forces agreement with the the United States in 1999.