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Sleepy far-flung towns in the Philippines will host US forces returning to counter China threats

SANTA ANA:- The far-flung coastal town of Santa Ana in the northeastern tip of the Philippine mainland has long been known by tourists mostly for its beaches, waterfalls, fireflies, and a few casinos.
But that's changing after the laid-back town of about 35,000 people, which still has no traffic light, became strategically important to America.
The United States and the Philippines, which are longtime treaty allies, have identified Santa Ana in northern Cagayan province as one of nine mostly rural areas where rotating batches of American forces could encamp indefinitely and store their weapons and equipment on local military bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

Thousands of US forces withdrew from two huge Navy and Air Force bases in the Philippines in the early 1990s at the end of the Cold War, ending nearly a century of American military presence in the country. In recent years, Washington has been reinforcing an arc of military alliances in Asia to counter an increasingly assertive China, which it now regards as its greatest security challenge.

That dovetails with Philippine efforts to bolster its external defenses after an alarming spate of territorial hostilities with Beijing in the South China Sea that started last year. The high seas confrontations have injured several Filipino navy personnel, damaged their boats, and strained diplomatic ties.
The remote town of Santa Ana is caught in the geopolitical rivalry between Washington and Beijing because of its

strategic location. It lies across a sea border from Taiwan, the self-governing island that China regards as a renegade province to be reclaimed by force if necessary. The US has vowed to defend the territory.
Some villagers in Santa Ana have expressed apprehension over the prospect of living near US forces. Their governor, Manuel Mamba, has vehemently opposed the looming US military presence, saying it would turn Cagayan into a military target of China.
Other villagers say the Philippines needs the Americans as a crucial counterweight to China, which they say has been using its military might to threaten Manila's territorial interests in the South China Sea.
"There's no choice. If