Former navy base earmarked for return of US troops amid Taiwan tensions

By Federico Segarra

Subic, Philippines, Mar 6 (EFE).- A former US navy base on the shores of the idyllic Subic Bay in the Philippines – once the largest American naval presence abroad until the end of the Cold War – could be returning to prominence again, with Washington planning to boost its military operations in the country to monitor China’s ambitions on Taiwan.

“Everyone here wants the Americans to come back, we were all better off,” Anna Magsay, a 46-year-old street vendor who sold souvenirs to US personnel decades ago, tells Efe.

More than 30 years after leaving, US troops could be deployed to the bay in the South China Sea on the Philippines’ northwest coast, 120 kilometers north of the capital Manila, with relations between China and the US increasingly strained over the two superpowers’ competing claims of influence in the Pacific.

Vestiges of the American military presence can be found all over the area – abandoned US army ammunitions bunkers, now overgrown by dense vegetation, line a road that was once restricted to US military personnel, who could soon be returning after the Philippines and the US strengthened a defense cooperation deal in February to add five bases to the four already being used by American troops in the country.

Subic plays a crucial geostrategic role due to its location between Taiwan and the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea, disputed between China and countries in the area, including the Philippines, giving US warships access to both contentious areas.

The enhanced US-Filipino agreement comes amidst escalating tensions, with China pursuing its expansion in the South China Sea, an area rich in resources that is also crucial for international shipping, and above all over the sovereignty of Taiwan.

China has not ruled out invading the self-governed island, which Beijing sees as part of its territory. Washington has pledged to defend the island, making the Philippines’ location key in the dispute between the two superpowers.

After Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency saw the Philippines cozy up to China, his successor Ferdinando Marcos Jr has made a U-turn towards Washington, looking to strengthen its historic security alliance with the US, particularly in the face of increased harassment of its ships by Chinese vessels in Philippine territorial waters.

In Subic, a town that thrived thanks to US investment in the region and became a free trade zone after 1992, hardly anyone opposes the return of American troops.

For Jonny Pois, a waiter at a beachfront restaurant, their return “would be very good for business. Bars, restaurants and hotels used to be full here.”

But Subic Bay Authority deputy director Ramon Agregado is more cautious, pointing out that the final decision on whether the area will welcome back US troops will be made by the central government in Manila.

“There are a lot of good memories from the time the Americans were here, so there are certain portions of the community that are supportive,” he tells Efe, while pointing out that as an investment center Subic’s priority should be its own economic development without taking sides in an international dispute.

There has also been some resistance among the country’s political class, with the governor of a northern province in Luzon earmarked for another potential US base speaking out against the plans, which he said could undermine the Philippines’ relationship with China, the archipelago’s main trading ally.

Even the Philippine president’s sister, Senator Imee Marcos, has questioned the move and called on the Philippine military to speak out: “Why is Taiwan our war? Are we going to fight for the US?” she asked in a hearing on Wednesday. EFE


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