Manila to protest Chinese airbase on artificial island

‘THREAT TO PEACE’::Aerial footage aired last month by China Central Television showed Fiery Cross Reef, which appeared to have been transformed into an airbase

Reuters, MANILA

Wed, Jan 10, 2018 - Page 5

The Philippines is to make a diplomatic protest to China, which it described as reneging on a promise not to militarize artificial islands in the busy South China Sea waterway, the southeast Asian nation’s defense minister said on Monday.

The US has criticized China’s buildup of military facilities on the artificial islands and is concerned they could be used to restrict free movement through the key trade route.

China has denied US charges that it is militarizing the South China Sea, which also is claimed in part or as a whole by Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana’s comment followed a Dec. 30 broadcast of aerial footage by China Central Television showing Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑礁), which appeared to have been transformed into an airbase.

“The Chinese government said some time ago that they were not going to militarize those reclaimed islands,” Lorenzana told reporters.

“If it is true and we can prove that they have been putting soldiers and even weapons systems [there], that will be a violation of what they said,” Lorenzana said.

There was no immediate comment from Chinese officials.

China and the Philippines have long sparred over the South China Sea, but relations have improved considerably under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been courting Beijing in hopes of winning business and investment.

China had assured the Philippines it would not occupy new features or territory in the South China Sea under a new “status quo” brokered by Manila.

Reports about China militarizing artificial islands were not new, Philippine presidential spokesman Harry Roque told a regular news briefing.

“We have always been against the militarization of the area,” Roque said. “It is certainly not OK, because it constitutes a further threat to peace and security in area.”