Photos released by the Philippine government show the Chinese reclaiming a small island reef in the South China Sea. The military surveillance photos support the Filipino contention that the Chinese have clearly violated a regional agreement to prevent tensions from escalating in the area.
Charles Jose, a Foreign Affairs Department spokesman for the Philippines, said the photographs provide indisputable evidence of Chinese territorial expansion in the Spratly Islands. For the Philippines, the move by China further destabilizes the South China Sea.
During a press conference, Jose presented before and after images of the island taken over by the Chinese. The first photo, taken in 2012, showed an untouched reef with white sands surrounded by blue turquoise water. In a 2014 photo, there is a concrete building just off the shore. Jose claimed the building is a Chinese outpost on the 74 acre island. Another picture shows a long pipe connecting the building to a dredging vessel at the northwestern section of the reef. Protests from the Philippine government for China to withdraw have been ignored.
Even the official name of the island is in dispute. Depending on what nationality is asked, the place where the Chinese have set up an outpost has three different names. To most of the world, the island is known as the Johnson South Reef. The Chinese call it Chigua. For the Filipinos, the place is known as Mabini.
In his press conference, Jose said that in 2002, China entered into a nonbinding agreement with 10 other Southeast Asian nations concerning territorial rights in the South China Sea. The agreement called for restraint while conducting activities in the region. The restraint was to prevent an escalation of tensions among the signatories that could lead to violent clashes. Claiming an uninhabited island and constructing a building there has clearly violated the nonbinding agreement.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said he wanted a stronger accord along with international arbitration for territorial claims in the area. The improved resolution needs to eliminate the escalating tensions with countries claiming territories in the Spartly Islands. President Aquino does not want to see nations enter into armed conflicts for oil and mineral deposits believed to be in the South China Sea.
Voltaire Gazmin, the Philippine Defense Secretary, has kept the armed forces of the Philippines monitoring the reef for months. For what purpose the Chinese plan on using the island for not known. He believes the Chinese intend on building a permanent base there. With the construction of an airstrip, the Johnson Reef could be used as a resupply depot to further Chinese claims for other islands in the area.
Hua Chunying, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said the reef was part of Chinese territory. Any construction taking place there is part of China’s sovereignty rights it has to the island.
China is intent on expanding its claims in the South China Sea. Recently, China has moved an oil rig into waters claimed by Vietnam. With photographic evidence of the Chinese claiming a 74 acre deserted island with the construction of a building, tensions among China and the nations claiming territories in the South China Sea will continue escalating.
By Brian T. Yates