MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Wednesday that the presence of China’s aerostat radar in one of their artificially built islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is “not a big concern” to the Philippines.
He said the deployable radar, which was spotted through a satellite image on Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) last Nov. 18, only had limited coverage and China could only be monitoring its own occupied islands in the area.
“I have not seen an official report from the military, the Western Command…Its coverage is just limited and it can’t cover wide areas,” Lorenzana said in a forum in Makati City.
“Why are we so concerned about the aerostat when China has satellites going over our head every now and then, going regularly. They see more from the satellite than the aerostat,” he added.
“(The aerostat) can cover maybe a radius of about 25 to 50 kilometers. Maybe they want to monitor their artificial islands, but it’s not a big concern to us,” he also said.
Panganiban Reef is located within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
The 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the Netherlands says Panganiban Reef belongs to the Philippines. Part of the ruling also says the reef, located about 232 km from Palawan, forms part of the Philippines’ EEZ (exclusive economic zone) and continental shelf, and that China has violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights with its island-building in the area.
Aside from the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have claims in the South China Sea, which is crisscrossed by vital sea-lanes through which $5 trillion in global commerce passes every year and where islets, reefs, and atolls are believed to be sitting atop vast energy reserves.
China in recent years had transformed reefs and islands into outposts equipped with harbors, airstrips, missile shelters, communications facilities, expanding its ability to monitor the activity in the South China Sea.
A report from Western Command said that based on their maritime patrol on Sunday, there were “negative sightings” of the aerostat radar on Panganiban Reef.
There were, however, three vehicles spotted on the north side of the reef; one Jiangdao-class corvette 4.5 nautical miles of the reef; three Chinese vessels around the reef; one cargo vessel and one Coast Guard ship inside the reef.
How is the Philippines keeping itself from being seen by China’s satellites? “I think the only way to protect ourselves from their eyes is to shoot the satellites down but we can’t do that,” Lorenzana said in jest.
“We can’t protect ourselves from being seen by the satellites. A lot of satellites are flying overhead…from the US, Russia, China, UK, France,” he said.
“Thousands of satellites are flying there. We can’t do anything. The space is free, they can put up their satellite… What are we doing? We will also have our own satellites in the future,” he added.