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MANILA (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel assured the Philippines on Friday that Washington had no intention of re-establishing permanent military bases despite plans to boost the U.S. presence in its former colony.
Hagel was in Manila as the two allies opened a new round of talks to allow U.S. forces to store equipment and supplies and to deploy, on a temporary basis, ships, planes and troops at several locations to offset China's assertiveness in the region.
Washington has similar arrangements with Australia and Singapore, part of the Obama administration's "rebalancing" policy in Asia, shifting combat forces from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Asia-Pacific region as China flexes its military muscle.
But with U.S. forces evicted in the early 1990s from permanent bases in the Philippines, Hagel sought to avoid offending sensitivities on any new stationing of troops.
"The United States does not seek permanent bases in the Philippines that would represent a return to an outdated Cold War mentality," Hagel told a news conference after talks with President Benigno Aquino.
"Instead, we're using a new model of military to military cooperation befitting two great allies and friends. I'm looking to increase our rotational presence here as we have done recently in Singapore and Australia."
The left-wing opposition urged the president to reject any stationing of forces in the country.
"The Philippine government must reject the U.S. plans to use Philippine facilities as de facto bases," said Renato Reyes, Secretary General of the Bayan (Nation) movement.
"The U.S. can and will use the Philippines as a staging ground for military intervention in other parts of the world, dragging us into conflicts not of our choosing and against our interest."
Friction between China and the Philippines, and other countries in the region, over disputed territories in South China Sea has increased since last year despite diplomatic efforts to forge an agreement on maritime conduct.
Hagel said earlier the United States would continue to seek out an international coalition to act together on Syria after Britain's parliament rejected military action.
Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Ron Popeski