China transforms reef into naval station

Jaime Laude (The Philippine Star) - July 27, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Chinese have transformed the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef in Palawan into a forward naval station with at least one ship docked in the area, a senior security official disclosed yesterday.

The official, who asked not to be identified, pointed out that since China’s illegal occupation of Panganiban Reef in 1994, Beijing had slowly transformed the area into its forward naval facility in the West Philippine Sea.

“At one given time there’s a Chinese frigate out there,” he said of the area located around 130 nautical miles from Hulugan Bay in Palawan and 97 nautical miles from Pag-Asa, an island municipality in the disputed Spratlys archipelago.

Aside from the presence of Chinese naval ships at Panganiban Reef, the source said the place is now considered as the most advanced naval fortification in the disputed region, servicing the needs of Chinese fishermen and their fishing boats.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced the other day that it is verifying reports that Chinese gunboats have been monitored at Panganiban Reef, which is part of Philippine territory.

“They have long been there, they already established a forward naval station,” the source said, saying that Panganiban Reef or Meijie Reef to the Chinese, rightfully belongs to the Philippines as it is well within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

In 1994, China occupied the reef by building structures on stilts and then slowly transformed the area into a heavily fortified eight-story naval facility complete with radar domes, helipad and piers.

Windmills installed in the structure have been supplying electricity to the facility.

At present, the source said all Chinese gunboats and paramilitary vessels being deployed in the area by the China’s Southern Fleet are using the naval facility in Panganiban Reef.

This explains why China was able to immediately deploy its Navy ships and other vessels to pull out its frigate that got stuck at Half Moon Shoal down south in Palawan in July last year.

“Those frigates that were seen securing their grounded Chinese missile-firing gunboat came from their forward naval station at Panganiban Reef,” the source said.

Aside from Panganiban Reef, the Chinese have already put several naval facilities in its occupied reefs in the Spratlys, including Subi Reef, where it has put up a three-story facility with gun emplacements, a helicopter landing pad, a radar dome, and lighthouse.

China, citing historical facts, is claiming almost the entire South China Sea as an integral part of its maritime domain, a claim that is now being challenged by the Philippines before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).


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