Contested reef in South China Sea: “Illegal structures” seen

Image: NASA.

The Philippine military says it has found “illegal structures” on reefs that it lays claim to in the South China Sea.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) says it has found “illegal structures” at Whitsun Reef in Union Bank in the South China Sea. The Manila government lays claim to the area, but a large fleet of Chinese militia ships purporting to be fishing vessels has laid at anchor on the reef over the last month.

The AFP claims that an overflight of the area spotted the structures last Tuesday, though it did not provide any more information on their nature or location.

An AFP spokesman said: “”[UNCLOS] gives the Philippines indisputable and exclusive rights over the area. These constructions and other activities, economic or otherwise, are prejudicial to peace, good order, and security of our territorial waters.”

Union Banks is part of the Spratly Islands, about 50 miles to the west of Chinese-occupied Mischief Reefs. It falls within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone, but like much of the South China Sea, is claimed by Beijing.

Up to 200 People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) vessels have congregated at the reef during March, and although most have dispersed, dozens remain. In response to the presence of the PAFMM, Manila plans to deploy patrol vessels belonging to the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

Initial suggestions that Manila would deploy naval vessels have been played down and Philippine Defense Secretary, Delfin Lorenzana said: “”We don’t want to be accused of provoking, retaining our navy ships in the area. So white ship for now, only Coast Guard or BFAR.”

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