US, China pour aid into Batanes, PH island closest to Taiwan
BASCO, Batanes, Philippines — Rival superpowers United States and China are pouring aid into Batanes, the Philippines’ northernmost island closest to Taiwan, which Beijing considers its territory.
Batanes Gov. Marilou Cayco announced the new forms of assistance pledged by Washington and Beijing during the island province’s 240th founding anniversary on Monday.
Cayco said the United States Agency for International Development and the Philippines’ Department of Information and Communications Technology would set up a Starlink premium service for a faster internet service across Basco, the provincial capital.
US Embassy officials are also scheduled to visit next month, she added.
“They said they will bring some good news about our requests for assistance,” she noted in her speech, without offering other details.
But Cayco said she also sought China’s help for food security.
“The Chinese consulate in Laoag (City in Ilocos Norte) has pledged more than P3 million worth of assistance to develop a production farm in [the municipality of] Itbayat. Chinese officials were here last month and vowed to continue helping us,” she said.
Food sufficiency has been a priority for the far-flung island province, especially during typhoons and earthquakes, as well as concerns over a possible Chinese military action against Taiwan. Farming and fishing are the main sources of food and income for the Ivatans.
An island chain and the country’s northernmost province where the Pacific Ocean merges with the South China Sea, Batanes is located less than 150 kilometers from its nearest point to the south of Taiwan. It has six municipalities and a population of 18,000.
Both the United States and China have been actively helping the strategically located province in recent years.
Analysts have said that self-ruling Taiwan is a potential flashpoint in US-China relations, with Washington as its most important backer.
Beijing considers the island a part of its territory and has not ruled out taking it by force if necessary.
In April, Filipino and American troops trained to defend Batanes from potential aggressors as part of the “Balikatan” military exercises.
Cayco said at the time that their residents were worried that the island would get caught in the crossfire amid the tensions between China and the United States over Taiwan.
The repeated calls to the national government from local officials to build bigger seaports and airports in anticipation of hosting thousands of Filipino repatriates in the event of a crisis over Taiwan appeared to be finally making headway.
Cayco said in the same speech that the Philippine Ports Authority would help in planning the construction of a seaport and their architects would soon start training for its planning.