Philippines opens coast guard post after China build-up

The Philippines announced the establishment of a coast guard post in the country’s northernmost region, aimed at bolstering security amidst China’s reported “military build-up” near Taiwan over the past two years.

National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano disclosed in a statement that the outpost’s primary objective is to gather crucial maritime data and intelligence.

This initiative, he asserted, will empower the Philippine Coast Guard to effectively address various threats, including illicit trade, trafficking, piracy, and foreign intrusions.

Ano highlighted the events of 2022, citing a significant military presence observed around Ithayat, attributed to China’s response to unfolding political dynamics between Taiwan and the United States.

The station’s inauguration on Itbayat, the Philippines’ northernmost inhabited island, marks a strategic move in this regard.

Situated approximately 150 kilometres (93 miles) south of Taiwan’s southern coast, Itbayat’s location assumes critical importance in regional security considerations.

Speaking on the matter, Ano stressed the importance of securing peace, stability, and freedom of navigation in the Luzon Strait.

He underscored these as pivotal to Philippine national security and economic well-being.

Additionally, Ano identified the Luzon Strait, which separates the Philippines and Taiwan, as both a vital international waterway and a potential flashpoint for regional and international conflicts.

Jay Tarriela, the Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson for South China Sea affairs, highlighted the significance of the Itbayat station in enabling effective monitoring of vessels traversing the strait.

Tarriela stated in a release that there have been notable instances of People’s Republic of China vessels observed in the maritime area as they traverse toward the Philippines’ eastern seaboard.

A request for comment made to the Chinese embassy in Manila remained unanswered at the time of reporting.

Earlier this month, the waters off the north coast of the main Philippine Island of Luzon were the focal point of major annual joint military exercises between Manila and its longstanding ally, the United States.

These exercises involved the use of missiles and artillery to simulate repelling an imaginary sea-borne invasion force.

Last year, the Philippine government granted the US military permission to utilise a navy base on Luzon’s north coast and a nearby airport under a defence cooperation agreement.

A bitter diplomatic dispute persists between Beijing and Manila regarding rival claims to parts of the South China Sea.

China’s activities in the region include the construction of artificial islands and military installations, particularly in waters adjacent to the Philippines.

China’s efforts to assert its claims include water cannon attacks by its Coast Guard vessels, causing damage to Philippine boats and injuries to crew.

It is just beyond China’s vaguely defined map used to assert control over the South China Sea.