Analyst: Weather stations in Spratlys smokescreen for military upgrades
China has started operating weather monitoring stations on its artificial outposts in the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea as a probable diversion from its continued militarization of disputed waters in the South China Sea, an analyst has said.
Maritime expert Dr. Jay Batongbacal said the new weather stations mark China’s latest move to make it appear that its militarized outposts were providers of “public goods.”
“By shifting back to the ‘public goods’ narrative, China is attempting to draw attention from its continued enhancement of military facilities on its features in the South China Sea, and trying to court smaller Southeast Asian states by casting the US and external powers as military troublemakers while China is a good international citizen offering public goods,” he told Inquirer.net.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said in a press conference last week that China has started operating a maritime observation center, a meteorological and air quality monitoring station on reefs in the Spratlys, known to China as Nansha Islands.
The South China Sea, one of the most contested waters in the world, is claimed by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
A separate report from South China Morning Post said that the stations are located on the three biggest artificial outposts in the Spratlys: Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Panganiban (Mischief), and Zamora (Subi).
“These projects are designed to observe the maritime, hydrological, meteorological conditions and air qualities and provide such services as maritime warning and forecast, tsunami alert, weather forecast, air quality forecast and disaster prevention and relief,” Lu said.
He also said they wanted to “improve civil services and provide public goods and services to countries in this region.”
“This is what we primarily wanted to achieve when we started these works on the islands and reefs in the south China Sea, and it is also a solemn pledge China has made to countries in the region and to the international community,” he said.
China insists that the facilities on its man-made islands in the Spratlys are primarily for civilian purposes, despite reports about its deployment of military planes and surface-to-air missiles on the islands earlier this year.
Analysts say that the missile shelters, runways, ports, aircraft hangars on the islands make it clear that islands are military installations and definitely not for civilian use.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, meanwhile, said he would reserve his comments until he receives “definitive information” from their intelligence units which are evaluating the weather stations. /cbb
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.