First of two parts
China has created new artificial islets in two more reefs in the disputed South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), which the Philippine military fears is meant to choke off its access to Ayungin Shoal, where a crumbling Philippine Navy ship is beached.
In an interview, Magdalo party-list Rep. Francisco Acedillo, a former Philippine Air Force officer, showed latest maritime surveillance photos taken by the Philippine military that revealed how China’s land reclamation is expanding to cover all the seven reefs it occupies.
The latest reclamation work is being done on Mischief and Subi reefs, known to the Philippines as Panganiban and Zamora, respectively, which are fast catching up with the five other reefs where China had done reclamation work early last year.
Acedillo branded this move as “ graver danger to the country’s national security.”
The photos, taken at an altitude of 5,000 feet, show multi-story buildings, deep harbors and airstrips being constructed. Also sighted were cargo and supply vessels steadily hauling construction materials in reclaimed lands.
“I warn my colleagues in Congress and the Filipino people of an impending danger to our national security and it’s right at our doorstep, less than 50 kilometers away from our Ayungin Shoal and roughly 400 km away from Palawan,” Acedillo said.
Dredging on Mischief Reef began on January 14 this year and has already formed an artificial islet, which now measures around 32,062 square meters from 1,909 square meters as of February 2013.
On Subi Reef, the Philippine military has monitored six cutter suction dredger vessels continuously enlarging two artificial islets at the reef.
While reclamation is ongoing on Mischief and Subi (Zamora) reefs, Chinese naval ships were sighted patrolling the area. In January, a Jianghu class ship was sighted at Mischief Reef, while a Yuting II class landing ship was on Subi Reef.
Mischief Reef, which lies 130 nautical miles from the coast of the Philippine island of Palawan, was occupied by China in 1995.
Subi Reef is 230 nautical miles from mainland Palawan but it is close to Pag-asa, the largest island occupied by the Philippines.
The Philippine military believes that the reclamation of these two reefs for an expanded military presence is intended to block access to Ayungin Shoal, where the Philippines maintains a military outpost in a rusty World War II-era warship beached there, the BRP Sierra Madre.
Latest surveillance photos of the five other reefs where reclamation work was discovered early last year now show an advanced stage of construction that clearly shows a military facility being built there based on the configuration and the fixed structural design of the buildings.
The Philippine military also believes that no matter what pronouncement and declaration of China on the intended purpose of the reclamation are, clearly it will support naval and air asset operations in the area.
The reclamation will provide a fixed aircraft carrier platform in the South China Sea that was China’s practical and immediate recourse because it would take at least 10 years for them to fully operate their newly acquired aircraft carrier.
To be continued
VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”