From rundown outpost, Philippines watches China island take shape in disputed sea


THITU ISLAND, South China Sea (Reuters) – As the Philippine military C-130 transport plane made its approach to the country’s most precious outpost in the disputed South China Sea on Monday, it flew past a reef which China is quickly turning into an island.

At least two cranes and two dredgers were visible on Subi Reef from the plane taking local and foreign reporters on a rare trip to Thitu island.

China’s reclamation around seven reefs in the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea is making Philippine islands such as this, known internationally as Thitu but called Pagasa in the Philippines, vulnerable, said Philippine military officials and security experts.

“In the last two years we have seen rapid development. They are getting closer to us. It’s a threat,” Major Ferdinand Atos, the highest-ranking soldier on Thitu, told reporters after the plane made a bumpy landing on the island’s makeshift runway.

Subi Reef lies a mere 14 nautical miles from Thitu, its lights visible at night, Philippine officials said.

Atos said Chinese patrol ships had not tried to come close to Thitu, which is surrounded by shallow water.

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