US Military Pulls Out of Philippine Port Project Near Taiwan. A Strategic Shift?

US Military Pulls Out of Philippine Port Project Near Taiwan. A Strategic Shift?

Some time ago, there were reports that members of the U.S. military would be on a visit to an island in the Philippines, which is adjacent to Taiwan, next month. The purpose of this visit is to discuss a new port construction project funded by the United States of America. The new port is located in Basco, Batanes Island, about 100 miles north of the main Philippine island of Luzon and 120 miles south of Taiwan.

However, according to a Reuters report (March 22), it has been conveyed that the U.S. military is no longer involved in the port development project in the outer islands of the Philippines adjacent to Taiwan, as stated by the local governor. The move is aimed at avoiding potential friction with China over the U.S. presence in the region.

Earlier in August, Batanes Gov. Marilou Cayco said she had sought U.S. funding for a new port project in the area. At the time, the U.S. Embassy confirmed that diplomats and experts from the U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) were in discussions with local authorities about various assistance that could be provided to the islands. The goal of the project is to assist in the unloading process from the capital, Manila, especially during rough seas during the monsoon season when existing facilities are often inaccessible.

Cayco revealed that the United States had initially stated that it would assist, but later changed its decision, prompting her to seek assistance from the PPA. When asked why the United States was no longer involved in the port project, Cayco admitted that she did not know the reasons. On the other hand, the United States Embassy did not comment directly on the issue on Friday.

The US military's involvement in the Batanes port project could escalate tensions, especially as tensions with China rise and Washington seeks to strengthen its long-term defense engagement with the Philippines. Naturally, Beijing will view this move with great suspicion. The Bashi Strait, located between the Batanes Islands and Taiwan, is considered a crucial point for ships sailing between the Western Pacific and the disputed South China Sea. The strait is also considered a strategic waterway, especially in the context of China's possible invasion of Taiwan.

Taiwan's defense ministry said the Chinese military routinely sends ships and aircraft through the route. On Friday (March 22), the Chinese Embassy in Manila issued a media release stating that Taiwan is an internal issue of China and therefore should not be a source of conflict between China and the Philippines. However, it is unclear what exactly the statement directly refers to.

Geopolitics of Batanes Port: Potential and Strategic Value

According to Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad, the spokesman for the Philippine Navy, the port has the potential to be used in emergencies, including disaster relief. Meanwhile, analysts say the port will have significant geopolitical value for Washington and Manila, both in the context of the Taiwan conflict and beyond.

In peacetime, the port will allow Manila to better monitor its northern maritime borders. In conflict situations, however, the port can serve as a strategic transit point for resupply and evacuation of Philippine citizens. Strategically, Batanes holds a crucial position in conflict situations as the islands control three major passages in the Luzon Strait: Bashi, Balintang and Babuyan.

According to SCMP, Felix Chang, a senior fellow at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute think thank, highlights the geopolitical importance of a port in Batanes that can provide fuel and services to large ships. 

Once completed, this new port has the potential to become the closest friendly location to Taiwan and will serve as a crucial transit point for supplies for the approximately 160,000 Filipinos living on the island.

Chang also notes that the port can facilitate the rapid deployment of anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile batteries ashore. This could help counter the naval and air power of the Chinese mainland's Southern Theater Command and protect shipments to and from Taiwan.

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