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Military monitors deployment of Chinese dredger in South China Sea

China unveiled the Tian Kun Hao cutter-suction dredger called ‘a magic island-maker’ by its designer and  considered as the most powerful vessel of its type in Asia. AFP

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of National Defense is closely monitoring China’s launching of Tian Kun Hao, its biggest island-making vessel, amid mounting suspicions that the world’s biggest and most sophisticated dredger will be deployed in the South China Sea or the Pacific Ocean.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana admitted that this development is causing some concerns as he pins his hope on the recently agreed protocol and mechanism on de-escalation of tension in the hotly disputed South China Sea.

“We have reports that they launched their big dredger, but we don’t know where it is going. We are constantly monitoring the movement of this ship,” Lorenzana said on the sidelines of the 78th anniversary celebrations of the defense department.

China’s official media Xinhua earlier quoted a Beijing-based military expert as giving assurance that “China will abide by the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea... and won’t use the dredger to expand its artificial islands.” 

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has troops in nine occupied territories in the Spratlys archipelago, two of which – Pag-asa island and Ayungin Shoal – are adjacent to China’s reclaimed islands over Subi and Panganiban reefs. Its Western Command (Wescom) also conducts regular maritime and air territorial patrol over the country’s Kalayaan Island Group.

“We have security there in Pag-asa, and we also have troops… in all the islands that we occupy, so we will know immediately if they are doing something there,” Lorenzana said.

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Although he clarified that it might be too early to react as authorities still could not point where Tian Kun Hao is heading, he believes that this could become a subject of concern if the dredger will be seen in the Kalayaan group.

Described as a “magic island maker,” Tian Kun Hao has begun water tests at the coastal province of Jiangsu.

The South China Morning Post quoted maritime security experts as saying the vessel could raise concern among nations with rival claims on territories in the South China Sea since it suggests that Beijing is preparing to reassert its dominance in the disputed waters.

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