• Expert: Chinese facilities in disputed sea operational next year

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    An expert on maritime law reckons that China’s military facilities in disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) will be fully operational next year.

    “We cannot tame its military buildup, only prepare for it together with allies and partners,” Professor Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of (UPIMLOS), told The Manila Times.

    Just recently, Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) reported that Beijing has been continuously militarizing the Spratly Islands with its construction of reinforced aircraft hangars on Fiery Cross, Subi and Panganiban (Mischief) reefs.

    These facilities are on top of China’s radars, landing strips and other structures in seven reefs converted into artificial islets.

    China still insists on its sweeping claims over the West Philippine Sea despite the ruling of an international arbitral tribunal that its so-called “nine-dash line” claim is spurious.

    The only thing the Philippines can do now, especially with former President Fidel Ramos who is working as special envoy to Beijing, is to negotiate a modus vivendi “to prevent sudden escalation and crisis, and perhaps to mitigate impact on resources and people, but not much else,” Batongbacal said.

    “This is for the near-term. Longer term projections are very difficult at this time,” the professor noted.

    Panatag next?

    Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said the report of CSIS no longer surprised him.

    He added that Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal could be the next site of a Chinese military facility.

    “China occupies seven reefs in the Spratlys and China reclaimed all seven reefs. So is Scarborough Shoal an exception that they will not reclaim it?” Caprio said in a forum at the De La Salle University in Manila.

    “They reclaimed everything that they see in the Spratlys. And the Scarborough is even more strategic,” he added.

    China has been exercising de-facto control over the traditional fishing grounds surrounding the shoal after seizing it from the Philippines in 2012.

    The location of Panatag Shoal, found 124 nautical miles northwest of Luzon, is strategic for Chinese warships and fighter jets to have a full and unimpeded access to the Philippines’ main island, which will be well within striking distance.

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