The United States military is in talks Build Ports to develop civilian ports on the remote northernmost islands of the Philippine, the local governor and two other officials said as reported by Reuters, Wednesday, August 30, 2023. This is a step that will improve US access to the islands. strategically facing Taiwan. US military involvement in the proposed port on the Batanes Islands, less than 200 km from Taiwan, could stoke tensions with China. This is Washington’s attempt to intensify a long-term defense agreement with Manila.
The Bashi Strait between the islands and Taiwan is considered a choke point for ships moving between the western Pacific and the disputed South China Sea and is a key China’s military regularly sends ships and planes through the route, Taiwan’s defense ministry said.
Marilou Cayco, the governor of Batanes, told Reuters in a message that she had sought US funding for the construction of an “alternative port” there, intended to help unload cargo from the capital, Manila, during rough seas in the rainy season.
He said the plan was to build a port on the island of Basco, where local authorities say high waves often make existing ports inaccessible, and a decision could be made in October.
The Philippines has in the past year doubled the number of its military bases accessible to US troops
ostensibly for humanitarian assistance, and also has thousands of US troops in the country at any given time, rotating in and out for joint exercises. China said the US action “fueled the fire” of regional tensions. Two other Filipino officials, who ask no to name because were not authorize to speak to the media. Said US troops had visited Batanes recently to discuss the port. One of them, a senior military official, said the Philippine armed forces were interested in radar to improve monitoring capabilities in the region.
The move comes as Washington forges closer ties with Asian countries to counter Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region, including the Philippines, a former colony and treaty ally.
Kanishka Gangopadhyay, a spokeswoman for the US embassy in Manila, said experts from the US Embassy and US Army Pacific (USARPAC) had engaged the governor and local government, “at their request, to discuss ways USARPAC could support engineering development, medical, and agricultural.”
He did not specifically mention the port.
Previous president Rodrigo Duterte threatened to cancel the US-Philippines alliance and realign the country with Beijing, but relations between China and the Philippines have become increasingly strained under the current president, Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Marcos sought closer ties with Washington, giving him access to four more military bases, including several close to Taiwan, though not in Batanes, and announcing joint patrols in the South China Sea. Marcos said the bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) could prove useful should China attack Taiwan.
Security officials in Manila say they believe any military conflict in the Taiwan Strait will inevitably impact the Philippines, given its geographical proximity to Taiwan and the presence of more than 150,000 Filipinos on the democratically governed island. Batanes was also one of the training venues during this year’s joint military exercise, known as Balikatan, which involved more than 17,000 Filipino and American troops
making it the largest-ever edition of a military exercise.
At the time of the exercise. Cayco said he was seeking investment to build a seaport and airport in the island province of 18,000 people. The province could host Filipinos fleeing Taiwan if conflict breaks out there and residents worry about escalating tensions. According to local government officials. Relations between the Philippines and China have also straine in recent months over disput waters in the South China Sea. With Chinese vessels firing water cannons at Filipino vessels trying to deliver supplies to the outpost. Cayco said he had not held any talks with the US about EDCA or about the radar installation. He also said there had been no discussion as to what access the US would have to the proposed ports. But troops could use all ports in the area for routine military exercises such as Balikatan.