MANILA, Philippines — While the Philippines is repairing its facilities on Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea, China has deployed ships near the island, according to a report from an independent think tank.
Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) observed People’s Liberation Army Navy, Chinese Coast Guard ships and fishing vessels near Subi Reef, which is 12 nautical miles from Pag-asa Island.
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As early as July 2018, Chinese ships have been operating in the area around the same time the Philippine government started the repairs on Pag-asa Island’s dilapidated runway.
The numbers of Chinese vessels in the region have increased recently, according to the AMTI.
“In five subsequent satellite images captured from mid-December to late January, their numbers fluctuate, reaching a high of 95 on December 20 before dropping to 42 by January 26,” the report read.
The think tank noted that most of the fishing boats have been anchored between 2 and 5.5 nautical miles from Pag-asa Island while Chinese naval and coast guard vessels are farther away to the south and west.
The fishing vessels appear to be part of the Chinese maritime militia, havong no gear that indicate fishing activity. The ships have also disabled their automatic identification system transceivers, allowing them to hide their activities.
Satellite imagery dated Dec. 20, 2018 show that two Chinese government vessels are in the area — a PLAN Type 053H1G frigate and a CCG Type 818 cutter. On the same day, the Philippine Navy’s BRP Ramon Alcaraz was also stationed southeast of Pag-asa Island, over 7 nautical miles from the Chinese navy frigate.
On January 11, a PLAN Type 056 corvette and a CCG Type 718B cutter were also spotted near Pag-asa while the Philippine Navy ship is no longer seen in the region.
“The drop in the number of government vessels, mirroring the reduction of the militia presence, suggests Chinese forces have settled into a pattern of monitoring and intimidation after their initial large deployment failed to convince Manila to halt construction,” AMTI said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier admitted that Beijing attempted to halt the government’s plan to upgrade its facilities on Pag-asa, one of the largest features in the Spratly Islands.
“When he learned that we are going to repair our runway in Pag-asa, he came to me and said, ‘No,'” Lorenzana said in November, referring to Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua.