China deploys militia as Philippines builds on Pag-asa Island


MANILA, Philippines – China deployed its maritime militia to the vicinity of Pag-asa Island (Thitu Island) in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) after the Philippines began constructing on the island, an international think tank said.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said that “a handful of Chinese vessels have operated in the area between Subi and Thitu since at least July 2018.”

The AMTI said this was “likely in response to the initial Philippine effort to start runway repairs” on Pag-asa Island in May 2018.

“But their numbers increased to at least 24 on December 3, just before the current construction operations began. In 5 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,” said the AMTI.

Rappler is still trying to reach the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs for comment as of posting time.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on February 4 that the Philippines aims to finish a beaching ramp on Pag-asa Island “within early 2019,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported. The AMTI said the ramp “will facilitate the delivery of construction equipment and materials to the island for further planned upgrades,” especially to its crumbling runway.

The AMTI said it had “tracked the start of repair work on the runway in May 2018, but that appears to have been halted while the beaching ramp is completed.”

“More recent imagery from January 11 and 26 of this year show that the reclamation work is more ambitious than a simple beaching ramp,” said the AMTI. Satellite images “reveal excavators depositing sand over an area of approximately 8 acres, or more than 32,000 square meters, to the north of the existing causeway.”