Philippines builds coastguard station in islands near Taiwan

FILE PHOTO: Philippine National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano arrives to meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the prime minister's office in Tokyo

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines has built a coastguard station in its northern islands near Taiwan, boosting its capacity to monitor an area where China has built up its military presence, National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano said on Friday.

He said the new station less than 200 km (125 miles) from Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, will improve Manila's ability to monitor the Luzon Strait, a vital international waterway south of the democratically governed island.

Ano said the area around the town of Itbayat in the Philippines' Batanes islands was the scene of a military build-up in 2022 after China had responded to "political developments" between Taiwan and the U.S., the island's key foreign backer.

"China's corresponding naval response was observed in the Luzon Strait," Ano said in a statement.

The strait, traversed by multiple cable systems, is a transit zone for vessels moving between the Philippine Sea and the contested South China Sea.

The frequent presence of Chinese survey ships there also underscores the importance of "securing peace, stability, and freedom of navigation along the Luzon Strait", Ano said.

Ano said the new station would allow the Philippines Coast Guard (PCG) to combat foreign threats and crimes at sea including illicit trade, trafficking, piracy and foreign intrusions.

Itbayat was one of the venues of joint military exercises by the Philippines and the U.S. from April 22 to May 10 in which more than 16,000 troops from both sides participated.

In 2023, the Philippines almost doubled the number of its military bases that U.S. forces can access, including three facing Taiwan. China has said those moves were "stoking the fire" of regional tensions.

In waters east of Taiwan, China conducted mock missile strikes and dispatched bombers carrying live missiles on Friday in its two-day Taiwan drills, Beijing's state CCTV said. It said the exercises were launched to punish Taiwan's new president, Lai Ching-te, whom it has denounced as a "separatist".

Lai has repeatedly offered talks with China but has been rebuffed. He says only Taiwan's people can decide their future, and rejects Beijing's sovereignty claims. Taiwan's armed forces have mobilised to monitor and shadow Chinese forces.

(Reporting by Karen Lema; editing by Mark Heinrich)