EXCLUSIVE: China has military garrisons inside Philippine zone of Spratly Islands

Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie is welcomed by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin at the Department of National Defense.

The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines - Its visiting defense minister may have assured Philippine officials on Mnday that Chinese jets were not involved in the most recent harassment of Filipino soldiers at Kalayaan Island Group, but a virtual occupation by Chinese forces of six reefs at Kalayaan has sparked anxiety over Beijing's true intention and its long-term agenda.

Doubts about its sincerity in resolving the territorial dispute amicably with its neighbors have been fanned by the revelation that China has put military garrisons and outposts well within the Philippine territory in the disputed Spratlys Islands in the South China Sea.

Documents and photographs obtained by News5 show that military garrisons and outposts are located in six reefs that are part of the Kalayaan Island Group. Six countries, namely Brunei, China, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, are claiming the Spratlys either in part or in whole.  The Spratly Islands are located in a 150,000 square mile area and is made up of some 200 islands, reefs and shoals.

The Aquino Administration is expected to push for diplomatic solutions to the dispute as well as joint economic development of the area.  But a political analyst said Manila should not surrender its sovereignty and turn to the international community for help.

The Philippines is claiming only a portion of the Spratlys, known as the Kalayaan Island Group, which located in a 64,000 square mile area and is made up of 54 islands, reefs, and shoals. Included in Kalayaan Group is Pagasa Island, also known as Thi Tu Island, which is the second biggest island in the Spratlys. The Philippines has built an airstrip and maintains small community on the Pagasa Island as well as garrisons in 8 other islets.

Vietnam occupies 23 islets while China and Malaysia occupying seven each.

The Kalayaan Island Group is part of the province of Palawan and within the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines.

Documents show that of the seven Chinese-occupied islands, six of these are located well inside the Kalayaan Island Group.  The military garrisons and outposts are located at Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, Calderon (Cuarteron) Reef, Gaven Reef, Zamora (Subi) Reef, Chigua (Dong Men Jiao) Reef and Panganiban reef, better known as Mischief Reef.

At  Kagitingan Reef, China built a permanent communications and maritime observatory garrison that can house 200 troops. China built helicopter landing pad, a 300 – meter long wharf allowing supply ships and patrol boats to dock, a two – storey barracks and a 500 square meter plantation area. Beijing designated the Kagitingan Reef as its main command headquarters as it is equipped with satellite data transmission, surface and air search radars. This garrison is armed with at least four high powered naval guns and several gun emplacements.

China built permanent reef fortresses and supply platforms at the Calderon, Gaven and Chigua reefs. These supply platforms can resist winds up to 71 knots and are equipped with VHF / UHF communications equipment, search radars as well as naval guns and anti – aircraft guns. These three supply platforms can also serve as docks for Chinese navy patrols boats.

At Zamora Reef, China built a permanent reef fortress and supply platform that can house 160 troops. This garrison has a helipad and is armed with four  twin barrel 37 millimeter naval guns.

Documents also show that China has built up its facilities at Panganiban Reef. It will be recalled that in 1995, Manila and Beijing had a diplomatic dispute when China started building structures on the reef. At that time, China said the structures were shelters for its fishermen but questions were raised as the “shelters” were equipped with satellite communications and radars.

Panganiban Reef now has four building complexes with 13 multistorey buildings. Fifty Chinese Marines are permanently stationed and are equipped with satellite communications equipment. China has undertaken several lagoon construction activities at Panganiban Reef. The construction of additional facilities at Panganiban Reef is apparently aimed at establishing pre positioned bases in the South China Sea, enabling Beijing to project its influence and power in the disputed islands.

Documents also show that apart from the military garrisons and outposts, China is aggressively pursuing large-scale maritime projects aimed at cementing its claim on the Spratlys. These projects include construction of port facilities, airports, navigation buoys, lighthouses, ocean observatories and maritime meteorology networks.

President Aquino had recently voiced the idea of claimant countries jointly developing Spratlys’ resources – and sharing in the benefits. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin says this a “good idea, “ adding that a good neighbor policy may be the best way to resolving the dispute.

“The proposal of the President is why don’t we come up with some sort of consortium where all the claimant countries are putting up their resources for a particular project in these areas” Gazmin explained. “For whatever proceeds we  get – we divide, we share equally, which is a very good idea.”

 But Gazmin was quick to add that this is just an idea of the President – there is nothing official about it yet. “It's just one of his (President Aquino) ideas.”

 “If that is one way resolving the issue peacefully and at the same time from earning from it, not fighting but earning and sharing resources – I guess that is a friendly neighborhood,” he said.

Gazmin said any “intrusions” into the Philippine territory will be dealt with diplomatically.

Last March 2, 2011, Manila filed a protest over China’s alleged intrusion into Philippine waters where Chinese Navy patrol boats “harassed” the MV Veritas Voyager, a Philippine oil exploration ship.

More recently, two unidentified foreign planes were reported to have "buzzed" Philippine troops at Kalayaan, and it was widely speculated these were Chinese MIGs. On Monday, however, visiting defense minister Liang Guanglie told his Philippine counterpart, Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, that Chinese jets were not involved in that incident.

Political analyst Dindo Manhit of Stratbase stressed, however, that Manila should not surrender its sovereignty.

While admitting the Philippines is militarily weak, Manhit said Manila can turn to the international community  to exert pressure on China or any other claimant country.

“Maaring wala tayong kakayahan (militarily), pero kaya pumapasok tayo sa mga bilateral or multilateral treaty tulad sa Amerika at tulad sa ating mga kapitbahay na bansa sa ASEAN,” he said. “Ang pakikipagtulungan sa kanila ay maaring taktika o strategy para harapin yung problema na ang China na nagpapakita ng lakas, nagpapakita ng kakayahan at parang binubullyu ang ibang maliit na bansa.” (We may be weak militarily, but this is precisely why we entered into bilateral and multilateral treaties with America and our neighbors in ASEAN. Our cooperation with our friends may form our tactics or strategies to confronting a bully China.)

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