Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dramatic transformations of Chinese garrison at Mabini Reef

From InterAksyon (May 15): Dramatic transformations of Chinese garrison at Mabini Reef

DFA photo

From a small outpost, China is now carrying out a major reclamation project at Mabini Reef which has widened its footprint to as much as 20 hectares.

DFA Spokesman Assistant Secretary Charles Jose acknowledges that authorities discovered the Chinese reclamation activity when a Philippine military aircraft, tasked to help in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, flew over the area.

The Philippine Government is now in the process of determining the purpose of the expansion of the Chinese military garrison at Mabini Reef, internationally known as Johnson South Reef but which China calls Chigua Reef.

A senior Aquino Administration defense official said they have estimated the reclaimed area to measure between 15 to 30 hectares.

Manila’s initial reckoning was that China was building an airstrip, but the defense official noted that the area may not be big enough to accommodate warplanes.

The other scenario is that China could be building a bigger, more permanent structure to allow it to support and maintain a more persistent naval presence in the disputed Spratly Islands.

Other officials point out that the reclamation operations appear to be long-term undertaking, as China has stationed a dredging ship in the area and also deployed several bulldozers.

The dredging ship’s mission to suck soil and other solid materials from the surrounding areas and pour this on the reclaimed area.

The Philippine Government has not monitored any similar activity at the other Chinese garrisons located within the Philippine zone of the disputed Spratly Islands.

The DFA released a series of surveillance photos to show the dramatic transformation of the Chinese military garrision at Mabini Reef.

China’s presence at Mabini Reef was first disclosed in an exclusive report by News5 in May 2011.

That report, citing confidential photographs and documents, showed that China has gradually built military installations at Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef), Calderon Reef (Cuarteron Reef), Zamora Reef (Subi Reef). Gaven Reef, Mabini Reef (Chigua Reef) and Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef).

A photo of Mabini Reef, taken around 2005, shows the presence of a permanent reef fortress and a supply platform. Seen on the garrison are a radar and communications antennas, observation posts as well as naval guns and weapons platforms. The platform is used to support ships.

Also seen in the 2005 photograph are two octagonal buildings, which are widely believed be support structures for expansion and additional buildings.

In another photo taken on March 2012, the permanent reef fortress could be seen and that platform had been expanded, which can now support helicopters and bigger ships.

In the February 2013 photograph, it can be clearly seen that the garrison’s platform is now bigger and that the main building has also been expanded to house more personnel.

Also seen on the roof are more parabolic discs and radar dishes. It could be seen that China has “planted” steel rods and beams into the reef apparently to serve as foundation for additional structures.

The February 2014 photograph shows the Chinese dredging ship anchored off Mabini Reef.

It can be clearly seen that the ship is suck up solid materials and “re-distributing” these on the area near the garrison. It can also be seen that China has built additional platforms off the garrison, presumably to accommodate additional personell and supplies to support the reclamation project.

Also present is the start of a perimeter wall (long black strip on the left side of the reclaimed area).

In the March 2014 photograph, it can be seen that the bulk of the dredging operation is finished, although work is still being done to control erosion.

Retaining walls being built and earth moving equipment, such as bulldozers, can also be seen.

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