Palace: China heightening tension with new runways
Alexis Romero ( - January 17, 2016 - 3:40am

MANILA, Philippines — China's building of additional runways on the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef is a violation of international laws and would contribute to tensions in the region, Malacañang said on Sunday.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. stressed that the Philippines is determined to "assert the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight" in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

"The building of additional runways contributes to heightened tensions in the region," Coloma told state-run radio station dzRB.

"We reiterate that these actions by China violate not only pertinent international laws but also the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea of which China is a signatory along with the member countries of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)," he added.

In a report posted on its website, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) under Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies said China is progressing faster than expected with its construction works in Panganiban Reef and Zamora (Subi) Reef.

According to the AMTI, the Fiery Cross airstrip took at least seven months from the start of grading while the grading in Zamora "seems to be proceeding slightly quicker."

"At Mischief, where grading began in September or October, construction is already approaching completion just three to four months later. Meanwhile China is rapidly building out other facilities on both Mischief and Subi," the report read.

Panganiban Reef is located 21 nautical miles from the BRP Sierra Madre, the rusty ship that serves as headquarters of Filipino Marines at the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

It has been occupied by China since 1995. The Chinese government initially put up structures on stilts at the reef, supposedly to provide shelter for fishermen. The structures, however, were later on transformed into a garrison with powerful radars.

"This strategic location combined with its size (China has reclaimed twice as much land at Mischief Reef as it did at Fiery Cross and about 50 percent more than at Subi) makes developments at Mischief of particular concern the Philippines," the AMTI said.

"The work on the runway at Mischief Reef is progressing considerably faster than it had at Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) or Subi. Preparatory work had started by the start of September, but the runway itself was not visible," it added. 

The AMTI said a "fully formed and compacted sand runway" could be seen by October 19 and by December 5 the runway and apron had been covered with gravel and about 500 feet of concrete.

As of January 8, concrete covered most of the runway, which appears to be nearing completion, the think tank added.

The AMTI also published photos showing a 1,900 foot seawall and newly-constructed infrastructure including housing, an artificial turf parade grounds, cement plants, and docking facilities on the northwest side of the Panganiban Reef.

China has also placed a powerful radar station on Zamora Reef, an islet 12 nautical miles southwest of Pag-asa Island, which is part of Kalayaan Island. A four-story structure, including a lighthouse, has also been built on the reef.

The AMTI said the construction of the airstrip at Zamora Reef is "nearing completion after six or seven months of work."

"As of January 8, the southern end of the runway… had been paved with concrete as had most of the runway and apron at the northern end, while the gravel base had been completed and concrete strips were visible in the central portion," the think tank reported.

Aside from Panganiban and Zamora, other Philippine-claimed areas that were covered by China’s land reclamation were Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Kennan (Chigua), Mabini (Johnson South), Burgos (Gaven) and Calderon (Cuarteron) Reefs. China’s reclamation program has been viewed as a potential threat to freedom of navigation in the region.

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