New satellite images show China construction continues on reef near PH-occupied island
MANILA, Philippines—China continued to build structures on Zamora (Subi) Reef, one of its biggest man-made islands in the West Philippine Sea, in the last few months.
US-based tech firm Simularity’s South China Sea Rapid Alert Service on Thursday (March 25) released satellite images showing “significant construction” on the reef, which is only 13 nautical miles from Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island, from November 2020 to March 2021.
According to the report, the changes seen in the satellite images were “mostly land-related reshaping or reconfiguration.”
“The areas of loose, white, bulk material are probably sand. The volume of changes is significant, and may indicate the early phases of major construction on Subi Reef,” it said.
The report said the changes, which were observed in 11 sites of the reef, were possibly for construction preparation, agricultural preparation, possible island repair/ land reinforcement, significant movement of materials and supplies.
Simularity compared photos dated Nov. 6, 2020 and March 7, 2021 to analyze the changes. It observed approximately 2,244 shipping containers removed from the Zamora Reef, indicating significant movement of materials and supplies.
It seemed to coincide with more than 200 Chinese vessels swarming a reef in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone that was reported by the Philippine Coast Guard on March 7.
Maritime security expert Collin Koh, a research fellow from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the construction was “likely aimed at rushing the major works before the Asean-China negotiations on Code of Conduct resume.”
“[It] took place amid a distracted Southeast Asia too busy fighting COVID-19. It’s not new island-building per se but the continual improvement of existing facilities at an already built-up outpost,” he said.
Last month, Simularity also reported that China has been constructing on Panganiban (Mischief) Reef since late 2020.
Panganiban Reef is located within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea. The waters within this zone are known locally as West Philippine Sea.
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