MANILA, Philippines—China has set up mental health stations on its occupied islands and reefs in the West Philippine Sea, which indicated that Beijing was completing its conquest of disputed areas with full medical support to its soldiers.
On April 7, Jiang Chunlei, a psychology professor of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Naval Medical University, went to Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) Reef to provide mental health counseling for soldiers, the Chinese PLA news website said in a report on Friday (April 17).
After the visit, the first batch of mental health service stations was launched in Chinese bases in the Spratly Islands.
Each station is equipped with a counseling room, an anger-venting room, and a psychological evaluation room. These are manned by professional psychologists and part-time counselors among Chinese troops, the report said.
A photo accompanying the article showed the inauguration of a mental health service station on Mischief (Panganiban) Reef.
“Despite improved living conditions in recent years, the garrisons always faced challenges and trials both physically and mentally due to arduous tasks and long-term combat readiness,” the report said, noting that the islands are far from the Chinese mainland.
“Such mental service stations are set up to help the officers and soldiers disperse loneliness and boost morale,” it said.
Artificial islands built by China in the Spratlys to further assert its claims are as far as 1,200 kilometers from the Chinese mainland.
China in recent years had transformed reefs and islands into outposts fitted and equipped with harbors, airstrips, missile shelters, communications facilities which expanded its ability to monitor its and rivals’ activities in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims to almost entirely own.
The 2016 decision by the United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal in the Hague ruled that Beijing’s claims have no basis and its South China Sea construction frenzy was illegal.
Maritime expert Prof. Jay Batongbacal said the recent move to put up mental health service stations was an indication that China was having difficulty maintaining large-sale presence in a geographically confined and isolated space.
“Being stationed on the artificial islands is like being imprisoned. A glided cage is still a cage,” he told INQUIRER.net.
He said this challenge lies on top of reports raising doubts about the integrity of structures built by China on top of reefs and islets.
“I think this is just showing just how hard and costly it is for China to maintain those artificial islands,” Batongbacal said.
Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, a West Philippine Sea advocate, said the Philippines should also protest the establishment of mental health service stations.
“The arbitral tribunal declared Mischief Reef as part of the exclusive economic zone” of the Philippines, said Carpio.
“That means only the Philippines can put up an artificial island there, and the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights to exploit resources there,” he said.
While the rest of the world is focused on addressing the coronavirus pandemic, China continues its expansionist activities in the disputed waters to assert its claims.
It has been recently announcing its “civilian” activities in the South China Sea — like the establishment of new districts and new research stations.