DN - Defence Notes

Philippines to protest China’s militarisation of reef

9th January 2018 - 14:30 GMT | by ​Agence France-Presse in Manila


The Philippines will lodge a diplomatic protest with China after Manila questioned if Beijing had reneged on a pledge not to militarise a disputed South China Sea reef.

Beijing claims nearly all of the sea and has been turning reefs in the Spratly and Paracel chains into islands, installing military facilities and equipment on them.

Delfin Lorenzana, Defence Secretary of the Philippines, said  Manila was investigating reports of recent Chinese activity on Fiery Cross Reef, an outcrop that Beijing turned into an artificial island and which now appears to house a military base.

Delfin Lorenzana continued: ‘According to them they are not militarising (the reefs) and it was for peaceful purposes only like tourism.

‘But if it is true and we can prove that they have been putting soldiers and any weapons, defensive (or) otherwise, that would be a violation of what they said.’

Lorenzana said he had also received reports Philippine fishermen had been ‘harassed’ by Chinese coastguards.

Asked about the Philippine complaints, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China ‘is conducting peaceful construction in our own territory, and that Beijing ‘has the need to build necessary territorial defence equipment.’

Lu Kang added: ‘It's not targeted at any country. I need to point out that China and the Philippines are friendly, neighbours.’

In December 2017, a US think tank released new satellite images showing deployment of radar and other equipment in disputed South China Sea islands.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said the buildup continued despite rival claims across the sea from Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Over 2017, China installed infrastructure to support air and naval bases, such as large radar and sensor arrays.

According to AMTI, Fiery Cross Reef saw the most construction in 2017, with building work spanning 27 acres, or about 110,000 square metres.

The Philippines had previously been one of the most outspoken countries in standing up to China's claim to most of the South China Sea.

This culminated in Manila's complaint to a United Nations-backed tribunal that ruled in July 2016 that China's territorial claims in the sea were without legal basis.

But since the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office in mid-2016, he has decided not to use the ruling to pressure China but has instead chosen to build closer ties in return for billions of dollars in investment and aid.

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