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Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma told a news briefing in Malacañang on Thursday that by building artificial islands in the Spratlys, China had broken its commitment to maintain the status quo under the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea that it signed with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 2002.
Coloma said the Philippines halted planned improvements to its facilities on Pag-asa Island (Thitu Island) and seven other islands in the Spratlys in keeping with the agreement.
He said China’s recent announcement that its island-building in the Spratlys would end soon was not making good on its commitment because the artificial islands would be completed by then and the construction of infrastructure would follow.
The completion of the artificial islands would prove that China violated the 2002 agreement with Asean, Coloma said.
Rule of law
Coloma did not give a direct answer when asked about reports that China appears to be building military bases on the artificial islands, but he said the Philippines was no longer alone in seeking a resolution of territorial disputes in the South China Sea according to the rule of law, specifically the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
CSIS reported that a lake in the middle of Kagitingan Reef had been filled in and it had a partially developed port with nine temporary loading piers.
Personnel could be seen walking around and two helipads, up to 10 satellite communications antennas and one possible radar tower were also visible, CSIS said.
Washington wants Beijing to halt construction and militarization, which “the Chinese show no indication of willingness to do,” said Bonnie Glasser of CSIS.
She said that she anticipated a short-term lull in construction as summer is typhoon season in the South China Sea while China’s President Xi Jinping was due to visit the United States in September and “the Chinese are attaching priority to having a successful summit.”
But she said she expected activity would pick up again later.
The artificial island on Kagitingan Reef is now 2.74 square kilometers in size, CSIS said.
China has reclaimed land on seven different reefs totaling an estimated 12.8 sq m, CSIS added.
At one of the sites, Philippine-claimed Mabini Reef (Johnson South Reef), CSIS said China had added a small port with two loading stations, two helipads on the reef and up to three satellite communications antennas.
It also had a “large multilevel military facility” with two possible radar towers being built, along with up to six security and surveillance towers, and four possible weapons installations.
Analysts said the runway on Kagitingan Reef would be long enough for the People’s Liberation Army to land any of its aircraft on the artificial island.
Arthur Ding, an expert on China’s military at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, said the airstrip would “definitely improve or enhance somewhat China’s military capability in the South China Sea,” including being able to deploy jet fighters to the island, although they would need “sophisticated logistical” support.
Other neighboring countries have also built artificial islands in the area, Ding pointed out. But the speed and scale of China’s works were much faster, he said, and whatever it does “definitely will have serious repercussions on the South China Sea and the regional order.” With reports from Jerry E. Esplanda and AFP
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