As American access increases in the Philippines, the US military is considering setting up a civilian port in Batanes Islands facing Taiwan.
The US military’s involvement in the suggested port in Batanes Islands could fuel the tension during the increasing discord with China and Washington’s initiative to strengthen its extensive defence treaty arrangement with the Philippines. The Philippines will soon develop a military frontier in Divilacan, Isabela to protect the Philippine Rise (Benham Rise).
Batanes Islands are situated between the Bashi Channel and Taiwan which is a crossroad for vessels traversing between the western Pacific and the South China Sea. Likewise, it’s a chief channel in case China starts invading Taiwan. According to Taiwan’s defence ministry, the Chinese military frequently sends ships and aircraft across the channel.
Batanes Islands Provincial Governor, Marilou Cayco disclosed that she requested funding from the US to erect an “alternative port” to facilitate cargo unloading from Manila, during rough seas due to monsoon season. She added that Basco Island is where the port will be built, where high waves make the current port unnavigable.
“If I were a Chinese strategist, I would want to take the Batanes at minimum in order to ensure control of the Luzon straits and use the island to prevent the approach of adversary naval forces,” said Jay Batongbacal, University of the Philippines maritime expert.
Increasing US Military Accession
In the past year, the country has intensified the presence of its military bases the US military can access, apparently for humanitarian assistance. At the same time, it enables thousands of US troops in the country to interchange for joint training exercises at any time.
Two Filipino officials said the US troops recently visited Batanes to discuss the proposed development of the port, as confirmed by Cayco. A senior military official said that Filipino armed forces were keen on radar and improved monitoring capabilities in the area.
The past Rodrigo Duterte administration warned to dismiss the US-Philippines alliance and amend the country with Beijing. However, associations between China and the Philippines became unpleasant under the leadership of current President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
The younger Marcos sought closer affiliations with the US, permitting its troops to access four more military bases. It includes several bases near Taiwan (though not in Batanes) and revealed joint patrols in the South China Sea.
Boosting Military Presence in the South China Sea
With the rising tensions with China, the Philippines has no choice but to boost its military presence in the South China Sea.
“Right now, we have small structures on the islands that we are occupying. But this is not enough for us to project our forces. We have few vessels from the Philippine Navy, from the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries, but this is really a small number compared with other countries,” said General Romeo S. Brawner Jr, Chief of Armed Forces of the Philippines.
He added that the bottom line of the game in the South China Sea is “effective presence.” It means that whoever possesses several ships has the advantage. He noted that there were over 400 foreign marine vessels in the contested channel.
Pressures between China and the Philippines have been exacerbated following the Chinese Coast Guard’s firing of water cannons to block boats that will deliver supplies to BRP Sierra Madre stationed in Ayungin Shoal.
The latest attempt to deliver new soldiers, food, and other supplies to BRP Sierra Madre became successful despite the Chinese Coast Guard’s obstruction. These hostilities are growing even harsher as Beijing insists that the Philippines promised to remove the dilapidated BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), to which President Marcos has no recollection of doing so.