Philippines to Build Islands Port Near Taiwan

March 22, 2024

Copyright Peter Hermes Furian/AdobeStock
Copyright Peter Hermes Furian/AdobeStock

The U.S. military will not be involved in development of a port in the Philippines' remote northernmost islands near Taiwan, the local governor said, removing a potential source of friction with China over the U.S. presence in the region.

The governor of the Batanes islands, less than 200 km (125 miles) from Taiwan, said in August she had sought U.S. funding for a new port there. The U.S. embassy had at the time confirmed its diplomats and U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) experts had been engaging local authorities on various support measures for the islands.

"At first they said they will help but later on, no more, so I asked help from PPA," Governor Marilou Cayco told Reuters in a message, referring to the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA). The project was intended to help the unloading of cargo from the capital, Manila, during rough seas in the monsoon season, when an existing facility is often inaccessible.

The U.S. embassy on Friday said it had no immediate comment on the issue.

U.S. military involvement in the Batanes port could have stoked tension at a time of growing friction with China and a drive by Washington to intensify its longstanding defence engagements with the Philippines, which Beijing has viewed with suspicion.

The Bashi Channel between the Batanes islands and Taiwan is considered a choke point for vessels moving between the western Pacific and the contested South China Sea and would be a key waterway in the case of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

The Chinese military regularly sends ships and aircraft through the channel, Taiwan's defence ministry has said.

In statement released to the media on Friday, the Chinese embassy in Manila said Taiwan was an internal matter for China so it should never become an issue between China and the Philippines.

It was not immediately clear what the statement was in response to.

"Any attempt to implicate the Taiwan question in the maritime disputes between China and the Philippines is dangerous," the embassy said in a statement, without elaborating on the danger.

When asked why the U.S. was no longer participating in the port project, Cayco said she did not know. "Actually, we just made a proposal and because that's not sure, we had sought help from the PPA."

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty)

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