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‘Yolanda drove away China ships’

MANILA, Philippines - Chinese ships pulled out of the West Philippine Sea early this month to avoid Super Typhoon Yolanda.

A security official told The STAR the Chinese vessels left days before Yolanda devastated Eastern Visayas.

“(The ships) withdrew more or less two days before Yolanda hit Leyte and they returned five days later,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Sources said it was unlikely that Yolanda had damaged the structures that China built in Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.

“There were no reports about damaged structures in Chinese-occupied islands,” a senior military officer said. “Yolanda had weakened by the time it reached the area.”

Another security source said Yolanda did not directly hit the area where Panganiban Reef is located.

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China has been occupying Panganiban Reef since 1995.

Well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, the reef has been transformed into a Chinese naval detachment and military garrison.

China initially built modest structures on stilts – supposedly to provide shelter for fishermen – but these were eventually developed into a garrison with radar.

Among the structures reportedly constructed were a windmill, gun emplacements for two naval antiaircraft guns, solar panels, a concrete platform suitable for a helipad, satellite communications equipment, a basketball court and concrete observation tower.

Kyodo News has described Panganiban Reef as the Chinese navy’s most active base and command center in the South China Sea.

Chinese frigates, patrol ships and fishing boats are often seen docked at the reef, the report added.

The report said Panganiban Reef is part of China’s new surveillance patrol route that the Chinese Navy has set up this year.

The route also covers Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank, all part of Philippine territory.

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