U.S. military planners discuss a potential port for Batan Island, Philippines, Oct. 25, 2023. 

U.S. military planners discuss a potential port for Batan Island, Philippines, Oct. 25, 2023.  (Christopher England/U.S. Marine Corps)

American military personnel will visit a Philippine island near Taiwan next month to discuss building a new, U.S.-funded port, according to Philippine officials.

The new port, at Basco on the island of Batan, would be 100 miles north of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon and 120 miles south of Taiwan.

It could be used in times of crisis, including disaster response, Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad, a Philippine navy spokesman, told journalists at a briefing March 12, the Philippine Inquirer reported the following day.

“The Philippine Navy and the Armed Forces are always preparing for any eventuality across the spectrum of conflict from peace to crisis to wartime,” he said, according to the newspaper.

Batan, part of Batanes Province, is next to the Bashi Channel, which separates the Philippines from Taiwan and links the Western Pacific to the South China Sea, where Beijing has territorial disputes with many of its neighbors.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has stated his intent to reunite the self-governing and democratic island of Taiwan with mainland China, by force if necessary.

The U.S. Army plans to visit the island in April to discuss the port project, Batanes Gov. Marilou Cayco said March 9, the Inquirer reported. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is preparing a response to questions about the project, spokeswoman Kirah Wurst told Stars and Stripes by email Tuesday evening.

U.S. soldiers and Marines and Filipino troops air assaulted onto Batan during last year’s annual Balikatan exercise.

Philippine Army Col. Michael Logico, executive agent for this year’s drills, said organizers are looking at sending troops to the island again, according to a March 5 release by the state-run Philippine News Agency. Balikatan is scheduled April 22 to May 8.

The Batan port project is a response to Chinese threats, said Grant Newsham, a retired Marine colonel and senior researcher with the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo.

“It is true of course that improved port facilities in the Batanes islands do help the local economy and are also useful in responding to natural disasters (i.e. typhoons) that blow through this area frequently,” he said by email Wednesday. “But at the end of the day, the interest being shown to this part of the Philippines is driven by the [Chinese] aggression.”

The new port should, at a minimum, be able to support U.S. and Philippine destroyers and smaller vessels, Newsham said.

“Don’t forget that besides having long enough and big enough piers, the water needs to be deep enough to accommodate ships of a certain size, and support facilities ashore are also necessary,” he said.

A port on the island would be extremely useful in a Taiwan contingency and even shore-based anti-ship missiles on Batan could cover a large area, Newsham said.

“Chinese ships trying to swing around the southern end of Taiwan or even land troops in the southern part of Taiwan will find themselves running a gauntlet of anti-ship missiles,” he said. “And the coverage provided by missile-armed ships operating out of Batanes makes things even worse for [China] — as the missile ranges are extended and from different attack vectors as well.”

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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