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News Commentary

Closer look at the reclamation, outpost on Mabini Reef

Camille Diola - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — What used to be a mere rock formation in the Philippine-claimed waters in South China is now expanding to become an island alongside existing buildings and facilities nearby.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) recently sighted new conversion activities conducted by China on Mabini (Johnson South) Reef, located 118 nautical miles off Palawan, and released photos Wednesday of the reclamation.

The DFA and other senior military officials had said China's reclamation of land in the disputed reef can be used to build an airstrip or even an offshore military base.

"Judging from the other structures put up by China in the South China Sea, we can safely presume they are for military purposes," Foreign Affairs Secretary Charles Jose said in a televised interview with the media.

Images from the South China Research Forum (nhjd.net) also show what observers call "massive construction" on the maritime feature, which China calls Chigua Reef.


China's reclamation. Screenshot from nhjd.net

Spotted in the area are a ship carrying gravel or sand, concrete-mixing plants, earth-moving machinery such as large cranes, fuel or liquid tanks, a vessel which appears to be housing for workers and a Chinese frigate as a support ship.


Chinese frigates guarding the reclamation efforts. Screenshot from nhjd.net

ALSO SEE: In photos: China's reclamation on Mabini Reef

Some members of the forum supporting Chinese claims anticipate "very modern facilities" to be built on Mabini standing on a land area "several times larger than the original reef."

Vietnam, however, has also been expanding its existing structures on the Philippine-claimed waters right across the Chinese reclamation.

A recent Philippine Navy image aired over GMA on Thursday shows an existing outpost on the disputed reef, with a ZPU 37-2 anti-aircraft artillery machine gun and machine guns mounted atop the three-story building.


An outpost carrying a Vietnamese flag across China's reclamation. Screenshot from nhjd.net

It is not clear, however, whether the outpost on the Philippine-claimed reef belongs to China or Vietnam, but a similar structure flying a Vietnamese flag has been also been photographed.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said China's reclamation may further strain tensions and even have an impact on the arbitration case before the United Nations maritime tribunal.

CHARLES JOSE CHIGUA REEF CHINA DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS FOREIGN AFFAIRS FOREIGN AFFAIRS SECRETARY CHARLES JOSE RECLAMATION REEF SCREENSHOT
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