South China Sea: Philippines risks Beijing fury with island building plan

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Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said a beaching ramp on Thitu Island, which it calls Pag-asa, had been completed to make it easier to deliver and unload construction equipment. Mr Lorenzana said: “We can now proceed with the other projects planned. A runway on the island will be repaired.”

We can now proceed with the other projects planned

Delfin Lorenzana

The beaching ramp, located at the western tip of the island’s unpaved runway, allows for the delivery of large equipment and supplies.

In the absence of a pier, the beaching ramp also allows ships to directly offload passengers onto the island, as opposed to dropping anchor 500 metres away and transferring to smaller boats to navigate the shallows.

A new sheltered harbour on the island will be inaugurated by the Department of Transportation on Friday.

Mr Lorenzana and Naval Forces West chief Commodore Renato David headed a military-led expedition to Pag-asa Island today.

The Defence Minister described it as a “historic milestone” in Philippine efforts to take possession of its islets in the West Philippine Sea.

The plan comes amid renewed tensions between the US and China in the South China Sea.

The Philippines has recently condemned China’s move to form two new districts to administer islands in the disputed waters, and also chose to temporarily keep a US military pact, citing tensions between superpowers.

Other claimant states in the West Philippine Sea, especially China, have far outdone the Philippines in building structures and establishing their presence in the area.

China has turned seven reefs also claimed by the Philippines into artificial islands, and militarised them.

The beaching ramp is the first of four phases of a project to build a “Basing Support System” for the Armed Forces of the Philippines on the island.

All the succeeding phases depend on the beaching ramp for hauling in supplies and equipment.

Now, the second phase of repairing the eroded, unpaved runway on the island can begin.

Phase three will be the paving of the runway and its apron, and phase four will involve other new facilities for the Philippines Air Force.

Mr Lorenzano said: “Because the beaching ramp is now operational, we can go full blast already.”

When asked of the plans for contsruction on Pag-asa Island would rock the boat with China, Mr Lorenzana said: “Not really, because we’ve been here a long time.

“I kept emphasising to the previous ambassador of China that we have been here since, in fact, the late 1960s.”

But he acknowledged Manilla hoped to establish a more significant presence in the West Philippine Sea, at least on Pag-asa Island itself.

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He said: “The purpose of this is just to develop this area into a viable community.

“Besides the armed navy and air force contingents posted on Pag-asa, there are no plans to install heavy armaments to militarise the island.”

Pag-asa Island is home to roughly 200 civilian Filipinos.

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