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US Ally Makes Military Plans Amid US-China Tensions

The Philippines’ defense chief has called for the country to step up its military presence in the country’s northernmost province of Batanes, which is less than 130 miles from Taiwan.

During his visit to a Philippine naval base on Batanes’ Mavulis Island Tuesday, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said the country would set a higher “operational tempo for the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines)” beginning this year, according to local media.

Under the leadership of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Philippines has taken a more hardline stance on China. Beijing claims most of the South China Sea, including areas within the Philippines’ internationally recognized exclusive economic zone.

The territorial feud has resulted in dramatic confrontations in recent months that carried a risk of involving the U.S., with which the Philippines shares a decades-old Mutual Defense Treaty. President Joe Biden and other U.S. officials have called the pact “ironclad” and reaffirmed it extends anywhere, including to the South China Sea.

Philippine Navy Helicopter Releases Dummy Torpedo
An AW159 anti-submarine helicopter releases a dummy torpedo during a demonstration off Zambales in the Philippines on May 19, 2023. Philippine Defense Chief Gilberto Teodoro Jr. has called for a more robust naval presence in… MoreALI VICOY/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Teodoro’s trip underscored the need to bolster the Philippines’ territorial defenses, Naval Forces Northern Luzon said in a statement cited by the state-run Philippine News Agency.

“He also called for the development of more structures, noting that Batanes is the ‘spearhead’ of the Philippines as far as the northern baseline is concerned,” the statement read.

Teodoro called for increased cooperation between the AFP and other agencies in the interest of safeguarding fisherfolk and other stakeholders.

AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., who was also on Mavulis Island along with other high-ranking military officials, thanked Philippine troops who are stationed there.

The island is closer to Taiwan’s main island than to the Philippine capital, Manila, and sits on one side of the strategic Bashi Channel. Chinese forces often cross this channel to enter the West Pacific, making this a potential choke point during a time of crisis, such as a war over Taiwan.

“I want to stress again that the Taiwan question is at the heart of China’s core interests and is a red line and bottom line that must not be crossed,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Thursday at the ministry’s daily press conference.

“Relevant parties in the Philippines need to understand it clearly, tread carefully, and not play with fire on this question to avoid being manipulated and eventually hurt,” he added.

The Chinese Communist Party government in Beijing claims democratic Taiwan but has never ruled there.

Newsweek has reached out to the Armed Forces of the Philippines with a written request for comment.

The Philippines’ military has also announced it was stepping up its patrol missions in the South China Sea, as well as planning joint-patrols with international partners in the strategic waterway.

The country has strengthened its defense ties with Washington, including by announcing last year it was making four additional military sites available to U.S. forces.

In January, Brawner pledged to upgrade nine military outposts in disputed waters, such as warship-turned-marine base BRP Sierra Madre at Spratly Islands’ Second Thomas Shoal.

Source: Newsweek