PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines—China has deployed a dredging ship at the disputed Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) and is doing “substantial” reclamation in the partially submerged area, signaling Beijing may be preparing to expand its facilities there, according to the military command that is directly in charge of securing the country’s maritime interests in the West Philippine Sea.
China has been earnestly conducting dredging activities at Panganiban Reef—a Philippine-claimed area in the Spratly group of islands, which Beijing occupied in the mid-1990s —similar to earlier reported land reclamation work in other areas of the Spratlys, said Rear Admiral Alexander Lopez, chief of the Western Command (Wescom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“We don’t know what they plan to do in Mischief. It is already a garrison to begin with and far from being just a fisherman’s shelter, which was what (China) claimed when they first occupied it,” Lopez said.
Lopez did not say when China started the dredging work or give any details on the extent of reclamation at Panganiban Reef, saying only the work had been “substantial.”
He said the Navy has taken aerial photographs of the reclamation activities at Panganiban Reef but that his command was not authorized to release those photos.
But Lopez said the physical change in Panganiban Reef since the dredging “has been substantial.”
He said Panganiban Reef has been functioning as a base for Chinese frigates that have been patrolling the area.