Philippines Builds New Port Near Taiwan Without American Help

The exclusion of the United States in the creation of a new Filipino island port near Taiwan could be significant in decreasing regional tensions between the US and China. The Batanes Islands, located about halfway between Taiwan and the Philippines’ largest island Luzon, will be home to a new port built for nonmilitary intentions – it aims to help unload cargo from Manila during the monsoon season, when the current facility is inaccessible. However, the longstanding defense cooperation between Washington and Manila, as well as the strategic importance of the Bashi Channel between the islands, make Washington’s decision to stay out of the project seem like a potential deescalation effort with China.

Marilou Cayco, governor of the Batanes Islands, made it clear to the media that she requested and expected American help in building the construction project. Cayco claims the US “at first said they will help,” before rescinding the offer later on. She then enlisted the help of the Philippines Port Authority to complete the port. The US embassy declined to comment on the decision. The Chinese embassy, for its part, clarified that Taiwan is an “internal matter” that should never develop into an issue with the Philippines.

Beijing, though holding a longstanding ambition to invade Taiwan and reclaim it as an official part of China, is not in a position to do so in the immediate future. The US has repeatedly reiterated its commitment to defend Taiwan should this invasion occur, and does not need to further accelerate the buildup to conflict by building ports near Taiwan’s coast. Even if officially built to serve the Filipino shipping industry, further American involvement and investment in the region would certainly make China raise its guard and become more agitated. The Philippines still has the capacity to build its own ports without American help, and Washington took the right decision to distance itself from this project.

The United States’ commitment to holding unofficial relations with Taiwan, most recently reinforced by the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 that provided it with another $4.5 billion in security against China, greatly increased tensions with China. Two years later, the US military’s involvement in the Batanes port might have drawn even further Chinese ire. Additionally, Beijing continues to view Washington’s efforts to strengthen long-standing defense engagements with the Philippines as suspicious. The Bashi Channel between the Batanes and Taiwan holds great strategic value, and is recognized as a choke point for ships moving between the Pacific and the South China Sea. Should China invade Taiwan, it would be a key waterway in any conflicts.

The United States must continue to avoid unnecessary actions that China might view as microaggressions in order to quell tensions in the South China Sea region. President Xi Jinping has made public his desire to reincorporate Taiwan into the CCP’s control by any means, and an impending conflict must be put off as long as possible – should it occur, Japan and the Philippines would likely become involved as well. Despite inevitable economic competition and military strengthening, we can hope that US-China relations and communication will continue to improve as they have been for the last year.