Philippines accuses China of building illegal island
BEIJING’S “illegal” island-building in the South China Sea moved to centrestage at an Asian summit yesterday after the Philippines produced evidence it said showed fresh construction activity at a flashpoint shoal.
An artificial island at Scarborough Shoal could be a game-changer in China’s quest to control the sea and raises the risk of armed confrontation with the United States, according to security analysts.
Beijing this week insisted it had not started building at the shoal – a move that could lead to a military outpost just 230 kilometres (140 miles) from the main Philippine island, where US forces are stationed.
But the Philippines has released images it said showed Chinese ships in the area that were capable of dredging sand and other activities required to build an artificial island.
“We have reason to believe that their presence is a precursor to building activities on the shoal,” Defence Department spokesperson Arsenio Andolong told AFP.
“We are continuing our surveillance and monitoring of their presence and activities, which are disturbing.”
China claims nearly all of the sea, through which US$5 trillion in shipping trade passes annually, even waters approaching the coasts of the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations.
The competing territorial claims have long been a major source of tension in the region, with China using deadly force twice to seize control of islands from Vietnam.
Tensions have escalated sharply as China has built islands on reefs and islets in the Spratlys archipelago – another strategically important location – that is capable of supporting military operations.
The United States has reacted to that build-up by sailing warships close to the new islands, and sending warplanes over them.
This has angered China, which has accused the Americans of “militarising the region”, and raised concerns of armed conflict between the two world powers.
A UN-backed tribunal ruled in July that China’s claims to most of the sea