Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana says he remains unfazed by reports that 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.
“The presence of militia… is no surprise to us as they have been there since 2012. We expect other countries to respect Philippine sovereignty, and to conduct themselves in a civilized manner befitting members of the global community,” Lorenzana said in a statement released Friday.
On Wednesday, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the US Center for Strategic and International Studies said the Chinese fleet 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.
But Lorenzana 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.
In December, the Defense chief said Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua had tried to discourage the Philippines’ repairs on the Pag-asa runway, and even Lorenzana’s visit to island.
“We pointed out to them that it’s just proper for us to improve the runway and every facility in the Pag-asa because they have already developed Subi Reef,” Lorenzana said at the time.
Facilities being constructed and restored included a beaching ramp, the air strip or the Rancudo Airfield, barracks for soldiers, desalination facilities, a sewage disposal system, conventional and renewable power generators, and lighthouses, shelters and storage facilities for fishers, Lorenzana said.
“These planned modest improvements are basic but nonetheless highly essential in delivering social services,” he said in his statement.
The secretary’s approach—firm but non-confrontational—is a welcome change from the obsequiousness we often see from other Palace officials.
Indeed, we do not need to be apologetic about building improvements on our own territory—and certainly, it is no business of any other state to tell us not to do it. Given the expansionist bent of our northern neighbor in the South China Sea, building up the territories that we already occupy is the only prudent thing to do.