The government should lodge a diplomatic protest or seek clarification “at the least” on reports that China installed rocket launchers on a disputed territory in the West Philippine Sea, a lawmaker at the House of Representatives said on Thursday, May 18.
“A report which says that China has installed rocket launchers in the disputed Fiery Cross Reef, also known as Kagitingan Reef, is something that should compel the Philippine government to seek a clarification at the least or a protest at the most at what appears to be a case of China’s duplicity in its behavior with regard to the contested region of the West Philippine Sea,” said Representative Rufino Biazon of Muntinlupa, vice chairperson of the committee on defense.
Biazon said China’s latest move showed it was actively taking steps to militarize areas that they have occupied, including those within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or extended continental shelf.
“The Philippines should not let this pass without a comment against the installation of rockets. We should be immediately calling the attention of the Chinese and do a diplomatic
assertion of our sovereign rights,” he said.
“Our response should be decisive and firm. Anything less would be interpreted by the Chinese and other claimants as a capitulation or acquiescence,” he added.
According to the lawmaker, the favorable ruling of the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration should place the Philippines on high moral ground to speak out against the actions of China.
He said the installation of the rocket launchers, while meant as a defense against possible attacks by combat divers, was still military equipment that weaponized the Chinese facilities on the reef.
“The construction of a runway and facilities on the reef is already militarizing the island they are occupying, what more the installation of rocket launchers,” he said.
According to Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (https://amti.csis.org), Fiery Cross Reef is one of four islands in the Spratlys that has undergone “significant construction or reclamation” by China.
The other three are Itu Aba, Gaven Reef, and Johnson South Reef.
Controlled by China, Fiery Cross Reef garrisons approximately 200 troops and has radar and surveillance capabilities, the AMTI said in its report.
Active land reclamation began in August 2014, although activity around the reef started three months earlier, it said.
Between August and November, Chinese dredgers created a land mass that spanning the entire existing reef and was approximately 3,000 meters long and 200-300 meters wide.
Citing photos taken by Digital Globe , AMTI said that Chinese reclamation has increased the area of Fiery Cross Reef 11 times over, growing it from .08 square kilometers to .96 square kilometers.
Fiery Cross may now be more than three times larger than Itu Aba, formerly the largest of the Spratlys.
Quoting analysts, AMTI said that China may also be constructing an airstrip on Fiery Cross.
The AMTI was conceived of and designed by Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank based in Washington D.C., according to its website.
“It is an interactive, regularly-updated source for information, analysis, and policy exchange on maritime security issues in Asia.”
AMTI aims to “promote transparency in the Indo-Pacific to dissuade assertive behavior and conflict and generate opportunities for cooperation and confidence building”.
Because AMTI aims to provide an “objective platform for exchange,” AMTI and CSIS take no position on territorial or maritime claims, according to the website.
It said that all geographic locations have been identified using the naming conventions of the US government as determined by the US Board on Geographic Names.