Manila expects Beijing to try to build on a reef off the Philippines’ coast, said Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday, a move he said would be “unacceptable” in the flashpoint waterway.
In an interview with AFP, Mr Lorenzana said he believed China would eventually reclaim the Scarborough Shoal, which sits just 230km from the main Philippine island of Luzon.
China has already built up a number of islets and reefs in the South China Sea, installing military facilities on several of them.
Analysts said that similar installations on Scarborough Shoal could give China effective military control over the disputed waterway — something the United States has said it is not prepared to accept. “They encroached,” said Mr Lorenzana of a 2012 confrontation that saw Philippine vessels displaced. “They occupied three islands there plus they are trying to get Scarborough. So to us that is unacceptable. If we allow them, they will build. That’s very, very disturbing. Very much (more) disturbing than Fiery Cross because this is so close to us,” added Mr Lorenzana, referring to one of the Philippine-claimed reefs China has built on. Because of its position, another military outpost at Scarborough Shoal is seen as the last major physical step required to secure control of the sea.
An outpost at the shoal would also put Chinese fighter jets and missiles within easy striking distance of US forces stationed in the Philippines.
The shoal also commands the north-east exit of the sea, so a Chinese military outpost there could stop other countries’ navies from using the vital stretch of waters.
A United Nations-backed tribunal — in a case brought by Manila under then-president Benigno Aquino — last year invalidated China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea. But his successor Rodrigo Duterte has courted Beijing and backed away from his country’s close relationship with the US.
Mr Lorenzana said Chinese island-reclamation efforts were meant to control the South China Sea.
“That could be their strategy to counter any superpower that would encroach on the South China Sea, because they believe South China Sea is — that’s like their lake to them — theirs,” he said. AFP