Philippines sets up three outposts on disputed islands in the South China Sea

The outposts are designed to monitor shipping and boost security. But they are also a deterrent against China’s territorial claims. Meanwhile, ASEAN and China are trying to renew talks to develop a “Code of Conduct” after the pandemic.

 


Manila (AsiaNews) – The Philippines has set up three coast guard outposts, on three different disputed islands in the South China Sea, to monitor shipping and increase security.

The announcement, which was made yesterday by government officials in Manila, are part the growing tensions with China in the ‚Äč‚ÄčAsia-Pacific where multiple territorial claims by many of the region’s countries overlap.

The move, experts explain, is meant to strengthen the presence of Philippine troops on the Spratly Islands and act as deterrent; however, it is also likely to cause new frictions with China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea.

In the past, Beijing has always protested any new construction on the reefs and islands. However, in recent years it did turn some reefs in military bases.

This policy has been challenged by other Asian nations – from Vietnam to Malaysia – as well as the United States, which considers control of the maritime route as a strategic element for trade and navigation.

As a response to Chinese imperialist aims, the US has boosted its naval and air patrols to ensure freedom of navigation.

Philippine Coast Guard Admiral Artemio Abu said that the island outposts, installed this week, will be staffed with Coast Guard personnel and equipped with radio communications to report any incidents.

He did not specify how many troops will be stationed, but confirmed that it is the largest deployment in the disputed region.

“Through these command observation posts, we improve our capabilities in promoting maritime safety, maritime search and rescue, and marine environmental protection,” Admiral Abu explained.

Known internationally as the West York and Nanshan islands and Northeast Cay, the three islands have been occupied by the Philippines for years.

Last week, the coast guard installed five navigational buoys with Philippine flags just off the three islands and near Thitu island, the largest of nine islands and islets Philippine forces have occupied in the Spratlys.

The area is considered part of the western Philippine province of Palawan. The “sovereign markers” flash at night to guide fishermen and ships and “communicate that the said vicinity waters are considered special protected zones,” the admiral said.

Since the islands are a protected area, mining and oil exploration are prohibited to preserve their rich natural resources.

Meanwhile, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes four states involved in territorial disputes, have resumed talks on a “Code of Conduct” for the area.

The proposed agreement amounts to a non-aggression pact, aimed at preventing armed clashes in the region.

Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions had interrupted negotiations among regional and international stakeholders.