China angered by U.S.-Manila deal on military bases

STORY: The U.S. and the Philippines on Thursday announced American forces will gain access to four new military bases in the Pacific island nation, expanding a staging ground as Washington seeks to counter China in region.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Manila met his Philippine counterpart and hailed the agreement as a

significant security measure.

“We discussed concrete actions to address destabilising activities in the waters surrounding the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea. And we remain committed to strengthening our mutual capacities to resist armed attack.”.

It comes amid mounting concern over China's increasing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea and tensions over self-ruled Taiwan.

A spokesperson for China's foreign ministry on Thursday countered that America was to blame for rising tensions in region, and said American access to Philippine bases "hurts regional peace and stability."

America has been flexing its Pacific military might - last month American f-18 hornets roared off the deck of the the U.S.S. Nimitz as the aircraft carrier navigated through the South China Seas.

Austin's visit to the Philippines follows a trip to key ally South Korea. This week American and South Korean forces staged joint military drills featuring heavy bombers and stealth fighters.

Those drills provoked a furious condemnation from Pyongyang.

North Korea on Thursday said American drill in the region reached an "extreme red-line" and threaten to turn the peninsula into a "huge war arsenal and a more critical war zone."

Last year, North Korea conducted a record number of ballistic missile tests, which are banned by U.N. Security Council resolutions. It was also observed reopening its shuttered nuclear weapons test site, raising expectations of a nuclear test for the first time since 2017.

Asked about the North Korean warnings, Austin said the U.S. would stand by its ally, Seoul.

“We remain committed to our extended deterrence commitment, and we're very serious about that when it comes to the ROK (Republic of Korea). And we will continue to work alongside our allies and train and ensure that we maintain credible and ready forces.”