DND: China reclaiming land at the rate of 9 ha a day
China has been reclaiming land in the West Philippine Sea at a rapid rate of 9 hectares a day, completing some 550 hectares in less than two months, an official of the Department of National Defense (DND) said on Wednesday.
More than half of the estimated 550 hectares was added to the artificial island China is building on Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, defense spokesman Peter Paul Galvez told the Inquirer.
“It was a crisis waiting to happen,” Galvez said.
He said the 550 hectares were completed between April and May this year.
By government estimates, some 300 hectares have been added to expand the artificial island China is building on Panganiban Reef, 41 kilometers from Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
The rest have been added to expand the artificial islands China is building at other shoals and reefs in the Spratly archipelago.
Total of 800 ha
US estimates placed China’s land reclamation works in the region at 800 hectares over the past 18 months, with artificial islands coming up at Panganiban, Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, Calderon (Cuarteron) Reef, Burgos (Gaven) Reef, Mabini (Johnson South) Reef, McKeenan (Hughes) Reef and Zamora (Subi) Reef.
All those reefs are in the West Philippine Sea, part of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone recognized under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Galvez said that of late, there had been no increase in the land areas of the artificial islands China had built on Kennan, Calderon and Mabini Reefs.
China’s reclamation activities on Panganiban Reef have been viewed by government security experts as the most alarming for the Philippines, as it is the China-occupied reef closest to the Philippines.
In March, the government estimated that the Philippines had lost 60 hectares to China’s land-grabbing.
Forward operating bases
Experts, including the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, have warned that China’s artificial islands could serve as forward operating bases for its military.
Airstrips for its jets and ports for its warships, as well as high-rise buildings that could all sustain a round-the-clock naval and air patrols are fixtures on the artificial islands.
China’s claims almost the entire South China Sea and its aggressive land reclamation would ultimately give it control of the sea-lanes and maritime resources in the area, experts said.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has called on China to stop its land reclamation activities at the 48th Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia is the current Asean chair.
Four of the 10 member states of Asean claim parts of the South China Sea—the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.
Taiwan also claims all of the South China Sea.
President Aquino, in each of his Asean engagements, has been pushing for the adoption of a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea to avoid the eruption of the competing claims into conflict.
In Malacañang, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said he was “certain” the Philippines’ maritime dispute with China would be an election campaign issue next year.
“Some people have already mentioned in their statements that they preferred joint ventures with China. So their views will go through to the prism of, I suppose, intense review by the people, by the columnists and all. My understanding is this may perhaps be one election where it may become an issue,” Lacierda said.
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