MANILA – The chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Monday raised concerns over the latest massive reclamation by China on seven disputed features in the West Philippine Sea.
In a press conference where he presented latest photos on the Chinese reclamation, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. said the world should be concerned about China’s actions.
He said China’s unilateral activities in the disputed waters must be stopped, saying these have not only alarmed claimant countries but also threaten the free flow of goods in the vital maritime route.
Catapang said the Philippine military received reports that Chinese authorities have driven away Filipino fishermen near the reclamation sites.
He said the government has formed a task force to help these fishermen to be able to fish in their traditional fishing ground.
Catapang said the AFP supports the government’s move to protest the ongoing construction works, which he said clearly violate the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed by the Association of Southeast Asian National (ASEAN) and China in 2002.
The declaration calls for the peaceful resolution of the disputes and the maintenance of the status quo in the disputed maritime territory.
The AFP chief added the Chinese reclamation activities also threaten to cut off route leading to Philippine troops stationed on a grounded World War II-era ship in Ayungin Shoal.
Catapang revealed the photos as thousands of American and Filipino soldiers kick off expanded wargames today.
CHINESE RECLAMATION WORKS
Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross) in the Spratly Islands was little more than a reef when China began land reclamation works to turn it into an island in late 2014.
Now satellite images taken by DigitalGlobe and shown on the website of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) show the runway — estimated at 3.1 kilometers (1.9 miles) in total — more than one-third complete, it says.
When in operation, it says, it will be able to “accommodate almost any type of aircraft that China would want to land”.
“Before this construction China lacked the refueling and resupply capabilities to reach the southern part of the South China Sea,” it added.
“While they have not yet been built, Fiery Cross should be big enough to accommodate hangar facilities for Chinese aircraft.”
Pictures taken less than four weeks earlier showed two sections of 468 meters and 200 meters were under construction, CSIS said, demonstrating the speed of the works.
Defense journal IHS Jane’s also reported that pictures taken by Airbus Defense and Space on March 23 showed a section more than 500 meters long and 50 meters wide.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, on the basis of lines on Chinese maps published in the 1940s and locking it into disputes with several Southeast Asian neighbors.
Its island-building in the Spratlys, also claimed in whole or part by the Philippines and Vietnam among others, has been seen as part of an attempt to assert its territorial claims by establishing physical facts in the water.
Fiery Cross is known as Yongshu to Beijing, Kagitingan to Manila, and Da Chu Thap to Hanoi.
Images published this month on the website of the CSIS also showed a flotilla of Chinese vessels dredging sand onto a feature known as Mischief Reef.
That reef, called by the Philippines as Panganiban Reef, is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the southwestern Philippine island of Palawan, and roughly 1,000 kilometers from the nearest major Chinese landmass.