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Indo-Pacific, Beijing's concerns: the United States wants to build a (military) port in the Batanes Islands, Philippines

Located in the northernmost part of the Philippines, these islands are less than 200 kilometers from the main island of Taiwan. They are also close to the Bashi Channel, which is one of the key shipping lanes for the PLA to enter and exit the Pacific Ocean.


Japan's Kyodo News Agency reported on the 9th that Caiko, governor of Batanes Province in the Philippines, revealed in an interview that the US military will arrive in the province at the end of April to further discuss the construction of port facilities in the area.


This news quickly attracted the attention of Chinese military experts for the very simple reason: the Batanes Islands are located less than 200 kilometers from the main island of Taiwan "and the US military's intention is too obvious," says the Chinese website 163.com.
Batanes Islands

According to the report, Caiko said that the plan in question was formulated in coordination with the Philippine Army, with the aim of providing accommodation services for Filipino workers evacuated from Taiwan in case "something happens in the Taiwan Strait."


In August 2023, CaiKo stated that it was discussing with the United States issues related to the construction of a new port in the Batanes because existing ports were often unusable due to strong winds and waves, so the United States needed to provide funds for build an "alternative port" locally to facilitate the unloading of goods from Manila by merchant ships during the rainy season when sea conditions are unfavorable.


"Such a drastic change in Philippine motivations for building a new port in the Batan Islands in just a few months makes one suspect that the Philippines is simply making up random excuses for the construction of this port. What is even more bizarre is that it is the U.S. military that is funding the construction of the Philippine port, so who else would believe that the port has nothing to do with military purposes? Let's not forget that in recent years the Philippines has almost doubled the number of military bases where U.S. troops can be stationed in the name of 'humanitarian aid,' with the basic purpose of "hitting China," says 163.com.


Geographic location of the Batan Islands - Photo 163.com

The reason the U.S. military is looking at the Batan Islands is because of their geographical location. Located in the northernmost part of the Philippines, the Batan Islands is the smallest province in the Philippines and is less than 200 kilometers away from the main island of Taiwan. They are also close to the Bashi Channel, which is one of the key shipping lanes for the PLA to enter and exit the Pacific Ocean.

The U.S. think tank RAND Corporation mentioned in its report that there is very little land within 500 nautical miles around the Taiwan Strait, making it even more limited as a strategic hub for the U.S. military to intervene in issues west of the first island chain, and that the Batan Islands have the potential to serve as a springboard for U.S. military forces.


In the joint U.S.-Philippines "Shoulder to Shoulder" exercise in April 2023, the U.S. Army used the Seamaster rocket launcher in the Batan Islands.


"Considering that the Seamaster system is equipped with an Army tactical missile with a range of 300 kilometers, it is clear that the U.S. military intends to block the Bashi Channel with its wartime long-range firepower, 163.com said".

In the joint U.S.-Philippines "Shoulder to Shoulder" exercise in April 2023, the U.S. Army used the Seamaster rocket launcher in the Batan Islands.


"Considering that the Seamaster system is equipped with an Army tactical missile with a range of 300 kilometers, it is clear that the U.S. military intends to block the Bashi Channel with its wartime long-range firepower", 163.com said.

The website "Deutsche Welle" said yesterday, March 11, that the U.S. and the Philippines will conduct additional joint military exercises "shoulder-to-shoulder," in addition to the "integrated air defense missile exercise" held in Central Luzon and those held in Palawan in the west of the country.


"In addition to the 'integrated air defense missile exercise' held in Central Luzon, military exercises have been held in the western Palawan Sea, but may also continue to include the Batan Islands in the exercise site, writes 163.com.

In the eyes of Taiwanese authorities, the U.S. military presence in the Batan Islands obviously has special significance. According to Lin Ying-you, an assistant professor at the Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Taiwan's Tamkang University, if there is a conflict in the Taiwan Strait in the future, the U.S. military will not need to be resupplied in Taiwan, but can be resupplied directly in the Batan Islands, "and even turn this place into an advanced base for U.S. forces to intervene in fighting in the Taiwan Strait."


Of the nine Philippine military bases currently usable by U.S. forces, the Camilo Osias naval base in northern Luzon is the closest to Taiwan, about 400 kilometers away.


With a possible port in the Batan Islands, the distance to Taiwan would be cut in half.

"If the military potential of the ports in the Batan Islands is fully explored, even if the local infrastructure is not perfect, they could at least provide ammunition and fuel supplies for U.S. ships, or serve as temporary repair and docking sites for battle-damaged ships, which has great military value", Chinese military experts write.


"But even then," adds 163.com, "the Pentagon has long recognized that the operability of current U.S. military bases located in the first island chain is worrisome, and even the U.S. Army base complex in Okinawa, Japan, carefully built over several decades, is unlikely to withstand the long-range firepower of the PLA, let alone the Batan Islands, which have only rudimentary infrastructure. In recent years, the Philippines has repeatedly created problems in the South China Sea and has also begun to follow the United States in dictating Taiwan Strait affairs. I fear that the authorities in Manila need to think carefully that the Philippines, so determined to tie itself to the U.S. bandwagon of 'containing China,' will eventually get burned."



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