Posted to ABS-CBN (May 14): DFA: China appears to be building airstrip on disputed reef
The Philippines accused China on Wednesday of reclaiming land on a reef in disputed islands in the South China Sea, apparently to build an airstrip, only a day after Washington described Beijing's actions in the region as "provocative".
If confirmed, the airstrip would be the first built by China on any of the eight reefs and islands it occupies in the Spratly Islands and would mark a significant escalation in tensions involving several nations in the area.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, an area rich in energy deposits and an important passageway traversed each year by $5 trillion worth of ship-borne goods.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on the area.
Philippine Foreign ministry spokesman Charles Jose told Reuters that China had been moving earth and materials to Johnson South Reef, known by the Chinese as Chigua, in recent weeks. He said China was reclaiming land in violation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, an informal code of conduct for the region.
"They're about to build an airstrip," Jose said.
He said evidence of the Chinese activity on the reef had been shown in aerial photographs taken by the Philippine Navy. The Philippines and Taiwan already have airstrips in the area.
The ministry had already lodged a protest with the Chinese and raised the issue behind closed doors at last weekend's summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations in Myanmar, Jose said.
Tensions in the South China Sea were already high after China moved a large oil rig into an area also claimed by Vietnam. Beijing and Hanoi each accused the other of ramming its ships near the disputed Paracel Islands,
On Tuesday, Kerry said during a phone call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that China's introduction of the oil rig and numerous government vessels into the area disputed with Vietnam was "provocative", a State Department spokeswoman confirmed.
China in turn said there had indeed been provocative action taken in the area but that it was not the guilty party, with the foreign ministry blaming the United States for encouraging such behaviour. The ministry said Wang had urged Kerry to "act and speak cautiously".
Beijing says the South China Sea issue should be resolved by direct talks between those involved and has bristled at what it sees as unwarranted U.S. interference.
It has also looked askance at the U.S. "pivot" back to Asia, especially Washington's efforts to boost existing military links with Tokyo and Manila.
The remote and otherwise unremarkable Johnson South Reef has been a catalyst for conflict in the past. In March 1988, China and Vietnam fought a brief naval skirmish on and around the reef with up to 90 Vietnamese reported killed.
Among the members of his delegation were Dr. Abdulmanan Gayak, President of the Mindanao Alliance for Peace (MAP); DXMY Suara Mindanao Anchorman Amay Samrod; a certain official from the Sulu MILF Political Committee; and the Vice Chairman’s security escorts. The unannounced but glaring issue of the day from the lips of the speakers concern the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and the upcoming Bangsamoro Government.
Other guests who also graced the rare gathering were Atty. Datu Simeon A. Datumanong, former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and former representative from the 2nd District of Maguindanao; Datu Pax mangudatu, the undefeated former Governor and Representative of Sultan Kudarat; and former ARMM Assemblyman Datu Pike Mentang. Representing the LGUs were Mayor Datu Zamzamin Ampatuan of Rajah Buayan, Maguindanao; and other local officials from Maguindanao.
The Commanding General of the 6th Infantry Division, General Romeo Gapos was also present in the kanduli.
The gathering was hosted by Datu Mibpantao Midtimbang, Municipal Mayor of Guindulongan and was joined in the affair by Hadji Datu Ali Midtimbang, Mayor of Talayan town; and Datu Nathaniel Midtimbang, Mayor of Datu Anggal Midtimbang town.
Other important guests were officers and members of the Al Muslimin Alpha Phi Fraternity, Inc. with whom the host-mayor was a founding-member. The group was led by its supreme founder Datumblah Sabpa; its Secretary General Engr. Saidali Litigan; senior members: Customs Collector Pendatun Alim; LTFRB Administrative Officer Shariman Malaguiok; DENR Regional Director Sultan Tungko Saikol; and its other members.
The speeches of the guests had erudite the multi-sector crowd composed of barangay leaders, traditional leaders, and the constituents of the municipality of Guindulongan. First Vice Chairman Jaafar traced the background of the MILF struggle dates back from the colonial times to the Philippine colonial hegemony on the Bangsamoro Homeland.
He said: colonialism was the root cause that started the struggle of the Moro people for freedom. For that reason, the Ansarul Islam, the Mandharul Islam and later, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) were formed. Then, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) formerly known as MNLF Salamat Hashim faction since late part of 1977 was formally organized in 1984.”
He pointed out, “We are now about to reap the initial fruits of our strenuous endeavours, referring to the establishment of the Bangsamoro Government. We should join hands to grab this opportunity.” “We, in the MILF are not after for positions. We may be better or best on revolutionary works because we have no experience, not even an hour in the past to date, on how to run government affairs, so we need your experiences.”, Vice Chairman Jaafar continued saying. The vice chairman’s message was so lengthy but was full of interesting contents.
On his part, former Deputy Speaker Datumanong said, “I have talked to my former colleagues in the Philippine Congress, with the members of the opposition, requesting them to help in the passage of the BBL. I believed that most opposition to the law will come from them and I sought their support. I even asked them to lessen their questions on it and they favoured me.”
Former Congressman Mangudadatu in his message said, ”I worked out on uniting some conflicting families, groups and individuals and I succeeded. We are related by blood with one other, e.g., even Iloilo City originated from the word Irong-Irong, a Bornean Muslim who settled and became a leader of the now called Iloilo City.”
“We should not strive to own many guns, such that owning many guns will turn out of control, the 6th ID Commanding General Gapos remarked. “He said that he is supportive of the advocacies on the Bangsamoro and similar activities like this “kanduli” but I am asking everyone to report to me any violators and spoilers of peace though I am leaving office for retirement by the later part of this month.”
Banquet party followed the long messages. There the officials and members of the Al Muslimin Alpha Phi Fraternity, Inc. conferred with MILF 1st Vice Chairman Jaafar. The former requested the latter for another forum at another date and venue and was positively responded by Jaafar with yet undetermined day and place.