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China expanding Mischief structures

MANILA, Philippines – China continues to tighten its grip in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), building new structures on Mischief Reef, one of the areas being claimed by the Philippines.

Rommel Banlaoi, executive director of think tank Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, said the latest structures to be spotted in the area were a windmill, solar panels, a concrete platform suitable for use as a helipad and a basketball court.

“Improved facilities bolster PRC’s (People’s Republic of China’s) effective occupation and increased vigilance in the disputed areas,” Banlaoi said in a text message to The STAR yesterday.

Banlaoi said he acquired a photo of the structures last June but believes it was taken months before.

He said he could not release the photo since only the one who provided it has the authority to do so.

“The point is China continues to improve its facilities and I think other claimants too,” Banlaoi said.

Mischief Reef is close to Ayungin Shoal, where the Philippines has a coast watch station. The reef is about 70 nautical miles from Palawan.

Mischief Reef, which the Philippines calls Panganiban Reef, has been occupied by China since 1995.

The Chinese initially constructed structures on stilts at Panganiban Reef, supposedly to provide shelter for fishermen, and later transformed them into a military garrison equipped with powerful radars and other air and maritime monitoring equipment.

 Earlier, China also installed a powerful radar station in Subi Reef, an islet just 12 nautical miles southwest of Pag-asa Island, which is part of Kalayaan Island. The Chinese began building the four-story structure, including a lighthouse, six years ago.

The Philippines, on the other hand, has built a town hall, a health center, a 1.3-kilometer airstrip, a naval station and recently a kindergarten school at Pag-asa Island.

Based on records, Kalayaan Island is a sixth-class municipality in the province of Palawan and is composed of only one barangay, Pag-asa.

The Philippines is claiming several islets, shoals, reefs and sandbars in the Spratly Group of Islands, which is being claimed in whole by China.

China has been boosting its presence in the West Philippine Sea in a move seen as an effort to assert what it described as “indisputable sovereignty” over the area.

Aside from China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim part of the islands, which are rich in natural resources.

All Spratly claimant countries have troops in the region, except for Brunei.

Navy joins Coast Watch exercises

Meanwhile, 200 Navy personnel will join the five-day Coast Watch System Capability Exercise 2012, which starts today.

The activity aims to harmonize the coordination of agencies with maritime platforms namely the Navy, Coast Guard and the Philippine National Police’s Maritime Group.

A US spy plane P3C Orion will participate in the activity and will complement the Philippine Navy Islander aircraft during a maritime surveillance exercise.

Participants from law enforcement organizations in Davao and General Santos will also be involved in the exercise. Observers from Australia, Malaysia, and Indonesia were also invited to the event.

Among the local assets that will be used in the exercises are two Navy ships, a Navy islander aircraft, a Navy Reservist ship and two police patrol fast boats.

“The exercise intends to promote inter-agency collaboration in line with the establishment of the National Coast Watch System,” Navy chief Vice Adm. Alexander Pama said.

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Alexis RomeroThe Philippine Star | September 3, 2012 | Article Link

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