Philippines military chief visits disputed island | News | DW | 11.05.2015
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Philippines military chief visits disputed island

The Philippines' military chief has vowed to defend disputed islands in South China Sea from aggression. Local military officials claim they are worried by "the creeping invasion" from Beijing.

During his visit to the island on Monday, General Gregorio Pio Catapang said he had flown to the island - called Pag-asa in Filipino - in order to establish that it is part of western Palawan province and "therefore a territory of the Republic of the Philippines."

The island, internationally known Thitu, is located half-way between the main cluster of Philippine islands and Vietnam, and is also claimed by China.

Beijing was conducting "enormous" reclamation work at the nearby Subi Reef, which is only 24 kilometers (14 miles) away from Thitu, the general said.

According to Filipino officials, China is also attempting to create artificial islands out several other Philippine-claimed reefs in the area.

"We are concerned with the creeping invasion," the top military official at the outpost, Major Ferdinand Atos said Monday.

Island authorities say that the work at Subi is conducted overnight, where the lights from the disputed reef can be seen.

"Two years ago they were not there, now you see them getting closer" Atos said. "It's a threat."

He also said Chinese ships have been issuing warnings against Philippines vessels, turning the area into a "no flight zone," as well as spraying water on Filipino fishing boats to drive them away from Philippine-claimed Panata island.

Competing among the neighbors

Last month, China offered an extensive defense of the activities in the region, saying the new islands would offer civilian services such as weather forecasting and search and rescue facilities, which would also provide assistance to other countries.

Beijing has accused the other parties, including the Philippines, of attempting to reclaim the island.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also lay claim to some of the area, which is believed to be rich in resources and crucial to trade routes.

The Philippines had previously filed an arbitration case against China before the United Nations, questioning its claim over nearly all of the South China Sea.

China has refused to participate in the case, which has yet to be heard.

dj/kms (dpa, AP, Reuters)

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