Philip­pine of­fi­cials claim main­land China con­struc­tion on ar­ti­fi­cial isles in full swing

The China Post - - LIFE - BY JIM GOMEZ

China is press­ing ahead with the con­struc­tion of ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands on at least two reefs that are also claimed by the Philip­pines in the in­creas­ingly tense ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute, Filipino of­fi­cials said Fri­day, de­spite Bei­jing’s pro­nounce­ment that some work would end soon.

Mayor Eu­ge­nio Bito-onon of Kalayaan is­land, which is un­der Philip­pine con­trol in the Spratly is­lands, where at­ten­tion has re­cently fo­cused on China’s mas­sive is­lands recla­ma­tion work, said that he flew last week near the Chi­nese-con­trolled Subi Reef and saw con­struc­tion was in full swing with many dredgers and a huge crane vis­i­ble on the emerg­ing man-made is­land.

“It’s full-blast con­struc­tion. It’s mas­sive and in­cred­i­ble,” he told The As­so­ci­ated Press, adding that it was ev­i­dent it would take months be­fore the Chi­nese com­plete the work.

In the mid-por­tion of the emerg­ing is­land, a 3-kilo­me­ter (1.9-mile) -long land­fill is tak­ing the shape of a run­way, Bito-onon said.

His com­ments fol­lowed sim­i­lar find- ings by the U.S. mil­i­tary and in­de­pen­dent de­fense an­a­lysts.

Two se­nior Philip­pine mil­i­tary of­fi­cials, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they weren’t au­tho­rized to talk to the media, said that aside from Subi Reef, China’s is­land-build­ing has also con­tin­ued on Mis­chief Reef, also in the Spratlys, based on re­cent mil­i­tary sur­veil­lance.

Chi­nese Em­bassy of­fi­cials in Manila did not com­ment im­me­di­ately.

The Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry said on June 16 that the land recla­ma­tion projects on some is­lands and reefs “will be com­pleted in up­com­ing days.” How­ever, in a sign that the de­vel­op­ments were far from over, the min­istry also said on its web­site that China would fol­low up by build­ing in­fra­struc­ture for oper­a­tions rang­ing from mar­itime search and res­cue to en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion and sci­en­tific re­search.

The U.S. and the Philip­pines, its de­fense treaty ally, have ex­pressed con­cern that China’s is­land-build­ing on at least half a dozen fea­tures in the South China Sea could be used for po­si­tion­ing mil­i­tary planes and navy ships to in­tim- idate other claimants, re­in­force China’s claim over vir­tu­ally the en­tire sea and threaten free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion in one of the world’s busiest ship­ping lanes.

China’s For­eign Min­istry spokesman Lu Kang said in the state­ment that the projects “do not af­fect the free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion and over­flight en­joyed by all coun­tries in ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional law in the South China Sea.”

A U.S. Navy plane fly­ing near one of the ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands last month was told to leave the area by the Chi­nese mil­i­tary. In a sep­a­rate in­ci­dent, a Philip­pine air force plane was sim­i­larly or­dered by the Chi­nese navy sev­eral weeks ago to leave the area. The in­ci­dents raised fears that China was pre­par­ing to en­force an air de­fense iden­ti­fi­ca­tion zone over the South China Sea, sim­i­lar to one it de­clared over dis­puted Ja­panese-held is­lands in the East China Sea in 2013.

The U.S. ar­gues that China can’t use ar­ti­fi­cially con­structed is­lands to ex­pand its sovereignty. U.S. of­fi­cials have said they were con­sid­er­ing step­ping up pa­trols to en­sure free nav­i­ga­tion in the con­tested re­gion.

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