China has deployed a large fleet of ships near the Spratly Islands in response to the Philippines’ construction of a new beaching ramp on Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, an American think tank said Wednesday.
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the US Center for Strategic and International Studies said these included navy and coast guard ships and dozens of fishing vessels from 30 to 70 meters in length.
Satellite images from mid-December 2018 and late January 2019 showed the number of ships rising to 95 on Dec. 5 before dropping to 42 by Jan. 26, AMTI said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, meanwhile, denied an AMTI claim that the Philippines was undertaking land reclamation of its own on Pag-asa Island.
“As of now, only the beaching ramp is being undertaken. Next is the concreting of the runway [Rancudo Airfield] and the third phase involves the lengthening of the airfield,” he added.
Rancudo Airfield measures 1.4 km. and is capable of handling medium-sized aircraft like the Air Force’s Lockheed C-130 “Hercules” cargo planes.
Also on Thursday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it is still studying further steps to take, in view of the reported construction of a Chinese maritime rescue center in the West Philippine Sea, a ranking agency official said Thursday.
“We’re studying what steps might be taken or not,” DFA Undersecretary for Policy Enrique Manalo told reporters in an interview in Makati City. As recently stated by DFA chief Teodoro Locsin Jr., he noted that filing a protest is an “active consideration.”
Both the DFA and Malacañang have yet to issue an update regarding the reported construction in the area.
On Monday, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, however, said the Armed Forces of the Philippines continues to monitor the disputed waters, where China and other countries—including the Philippines—share contesting territorial claims.
On Jan. 29, China’s news agency Xinhua reported that a maritime rescue center was built on the Philippine-claimed Kagitingan Reef in the Kalayaan Island Group.