With world busy fighting coronavirus, China quietly builds installations on Philippine-claimed reefs

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
With world busy fighting coronavirus, China quietly builds installations on Philippine-claimed reefs
This Jan. 1, 2018 satellite image shows China's installations on Fiery Cross or Kagitingan Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
CSIS / AMTI via DigitalGlobe

MANILA, Philippines — While the rest of the world is busy battling the coronavirus pandemic, China, where the virus originated, has taken advantage of the countries’ preoccupation by building new facilities on Philippine-claimed territories in West Philippine Sea.

On Friday, government-funded Chinese Academy of Sciences launched two research stations on Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) and Subi Reefs in Spratly Islands to “help scientists expand their research into deep sea ecology, geology, environment, material sciences and marine energy,” state-run Xinhua reported.

“They also play a part in monitoring ecological and seismic changes in key regions of the South China Sea,” it added.

As it is, the state-sponsored think tank running the new installments has a research center based on Mischief Reef, which the July 2016 international arbitral award ruled to be part of the Philippines.

While Subi Reef and Fiery Cross are different territories not subject of the ruling, Manila is also laying claim on the islands located closer to the country, sitting around 100 km and 24 km off Palawan, respectively. 

According to the news report, the new stations would serve as research units meant to support Beijing’s all-encompassing development programs in South China Sea, an area where freedom of navigation has been under attack due to China’s militarization.
Specifically, new Chinese facilities in Fiery Cross are envisioned to monitor coral reef biomes or the island’s flora and fresh water conservation, while those in Subi Reef will house seismic stability and fresh water monitoring systems.

Fiery Cross and Subi Reefs are two of Beijing's “big three” militarized islands in the Spratlys, particularly transforming the former into a fortified airbase in 2017.

In July 2016, a United Nations-backed tribunal characterized Fiery Cross Reef as a rock that can't sustain habitation or economic life. It is allowed a 12-nautical mile territorial sea.

As to Subi Reef, the arbitral tribunal also concluded that the island is a low-tide elevation, which means that it disappears during high tide and has no maritime entitlement.






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