Thu, May 15, 2014 - Page 6 News List

China may be building strip on disputed reef: Manila

AFP, MANILA

The Philippines yesterday warned that China may be building an airstrip on a reef in the South China Sea to boost its claim to most of the strategic, disputed waters.

Philippine surveillance aircraft have been monitoring large-scale reclamation and earth-moving activity on the Chinese-held Johnson South Reef (Chigua Reef, 赤瓜礁) since January, the Philippine Department of Defence said.

The reef is part of the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), parts or all of which are claimed by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

Asked if China was building an airstrip on the reef, Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario said: “That’s one possibility.”

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) yesterday would not confirm Manila’s assertion, but said that the outcrop was Chinese territory.

“Whatever construction China carries out on the reef is a matter entirely within the scope of China’s sovereignty. I don’t know what particular intentions the Philippines has in caring so much about this,” she said at a regular press briefing.

Last week, the Chinese press downplayed the activity at the reef, saying it was merely to renovate the living facilities for troops stationed there.

“We can confirm that there is ongoing reclamation or earthmoving activities in that portion,” defense department spokesman Peter Galvez told reporters yesterday. “It has been getting bigger and bigger.”

Del Rosario told reporters Manila filed a diplomatic protest against Beijing’s reclamation works on the reef last month, but China rejected it on grounds that the reef is part of its territory.

The Philippines calls the outcrop the Mabini Reef, while China calls it Chigua Reef and internationally, it is recognized as the Johnson South Reef.

China seized the reef and other outcrops from Vietnam in a deadly 1988 skirmish.

It is not the first time the Philippines has made allegations against China over construction at disputed outcrops in the sea.

In September last year, Manila accused Beijing of laying concrete blocks on the disputed Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島) that it said could be a “prelude to construction.”

However, in an embarrassing about-face, Manila dropped the allegations weeks later after concluding that the concrete blocks were previously existing structures.

Manila said China took effective control of the shoal in 2012, stationing patrol vessels and shooing away Filipino fishermen after a standoff with the Philippine Navy.

Meanwhile, the Philippines yesterday said that two of the 11 Chinese fishermen arrested last week by Philippine police in another area of the Spratlys were flown to Guangzhou late on Tuesday.

Manila filed charges against the other nine for poaching and collecting protected species, but freed the two because they are minors.

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