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Duterte takes 'non-combative' stance amid China military buildup

The image shows the Chinese miltiary structures installed on Kagitingan Reef. AMTI

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Friday issued a diffident response to reports that Beijing has been incessant in its construction of military facilities in the Philippines’ maritime backyard, insisting that President Rodrigo Duterte approached such issues in a “non-combative” way.

In a media conference in Duterte’s hometown of Davao City, Ernesto Abella, the president’s spokesman, said that the chief executive had approached regional geopolitics in a “non-combative and non-adversarial” way, in line with its policy of cozying up with Beijing to attract Chinese money and investments into Manila’s economy.

Duterte had viewed regional politics from the point of view of dialogue, mutual understanding and mutual support, the spokesman noted.

“The president’s approach to regional geopolitics has always been to come to a mutual understanding and dialogue in order to resolve cases like this,” he said, adding that these matters should be referred to the defense and foreign affairs departments.

“However, we need to just go back to the fact that the president at this stage has been non-combative and non-adversarial but has approached regional politics from the point of view of dialogue and mutual understanding and mutual support,” Abella said.

The spokesman’s statement was a reaction to a report of a Washington-based think tank showing that China had continued to install military facilities on artificial islands near the Philippines despite the two countries’ closer engagement.

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According to CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Beijing has installed new missile shelters, radar and communication facilities and other infrastructure on man-made islands on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, Panganiban (Mischief) Reef and Zamora (Subi) Reef.

Its report said that the artificial island on Kagitingan had been the most advanced in waters of the West Philippine Sea.

The three reefs have been hosting hardened shelters with retractable roofs since February. These have the potential to house missile launchers.

A line of “very large” antennas has been put up in an outpost on the southern side of Panganiban Reef which could boost “China’s ability to monitor activity around the feature,” according to the report.

"That ability should be of particular concern to Manila, given Mischief’s proximity to Palawan, Reed Bank and Second Thomas Shoal," it says.

Several houses for small and large radar antennas have also been spotted, indicating the possibility that these would be used for radars for any missile systems that might be installed there.

The report on China’s latest military installations in the disputed region comes as Alan Cayetano, the Philippine foreign secretary, is visiting Beijing where the two countries have signed 22 cooperative agreements, making the world’s second largest economy the Philippines’ biggest trading partner for the first time.

Wan Yi, China’s foreign minister, touted this as a sign that Manila and Beijing have entered a “golden period of fast development.”

“Our two countries have set up a bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea issue and also a mechanism for cooperation between the coast guards,” Wang said. “If anyone wants to reverse the current progress it will harm the interests of the Philippine people and that is not what we would like to see,” he said.

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