7th Fleet's new home is worlds away from Philippines In 'access' arrangement, Singapore welcomes Navy.

January 16, 1992|By Knight-Ridder

SINGAPORE -- The U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet command center is getting a new home, rent-free, and the landlord is sprucing up the place before the new tenant arrives.

Moving out of its longtime home at Subic Bay Naval Base because the Philippine government rejected a new lease on the base, the fleet's command task force will come to Singapore, President Bush announced during a recent visit here. The move is part of a U.S. shift to smaller, cheaper military arrangements in Southeast Asia.

The fleet's new home could hardly be more different from its old one.

There is no public opposition here to the permanent presence of U.S. military personnel, as there was in the Philippines. And the United States will not need to pay for stationing personnel. Singapore, in fact, will bear the financial burden for upgrading housing and office facilities for U.S. military use.

The same sentiment hardly prevailed in the Philippines, where the United States had agreed to pay $203 million a year in cash to maintain the sprawling Subic Bay complex for another decade -- and still the deal was rejected in September by the nationalist-dominated Philippine Senate.

Philippine conservatives now see that decision as more suspect than ever, with Singapore -- and others in the region -- stepping forward to fill the void created by the Americans' departure from the Philippines.

Describing the agreement with Singapore as an "access" arrangement, as opposed to a traditional military base agreement, one U.S. official here said that similar talks were under way with Malaysia regarding U.S. military "access" to ship-repair facilities there.

A Southeast Asian diplomat reported similar discussions with Thailand.

Bilveer Singh, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore, added with more than a little surprise that most countries in the region, following Singapore's lead, now seemed willing to consider similar access arrangements.

"We've taken the politics out of the bases," he said. "The Americans are here on a low-key basis, and the onus of the Americans' presence is no longer on the Americans but on Singapore. This readjustment is necessary."

Subic Bay and Clark Air Base -- closed last year after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo -- housed 34,000 U.S. service personnel and dependents as recently as a year ago and provided vast repair, logistical and training facilities.

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