MANILA, Philippines — The government should, “at the very least,” file a diplomatic protest over China’s installation of rocket launchers on disputed Fiery Cross Reef, also called Kagitingan Reef by Manila, a lawmaker said Wednesday.
The state-run Defense Times newspaper, in a Tuesday report on its WeChat account, said Norinco CS/AR-1 55mm anti-frogman rocket launcher defense systems with the capability to discover, identify and attack enemy combat divers had been installed on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands.
“A report which says that China has installed rocket launchers in the disputed Fiery Cross Reef, also known as Kagitingan Reef, is something that should compel the Philippine government to seek a clarification at the least or a protest at the most at what appears to be a case of China’s duplicity in its behavior with regard to the contested region of the West Philippine Sea,” said Muntinlupa Representative Rozzano Rufino Biazon, vice chairman of the House of Representatives’ committee on national defense and security.
China has said military construction on the islands it controls in the South China Sea will be limited to necessary defensive requirements, and that it can do what it likes on its own territory.
Fiery Cross Reef is administered by China but also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.
The Defense Times report did not say when the defense system was installed, but said it was part of a response that began in May 2014, when Vietnamese divers installed large numbers of fishing nets in the Paracel Islands.
China has conducted extensive land reclamation work at Fiery Cross Reef, including building an airport, one of several Chinese-controlled features in the South China Sea where China has carried out such work.
Biazon said the installation of the rocket launchers proves China is actively militarizing territory it has occupied, including that within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone or extended continental shelf.
“The Philippines should not let this pass without a comment against the installation of rockets. We should be immediately calling the attention of the Chinese and do a diplomatic
assertion of our sovereign rights,” he said.
“The construction of a runway and facilities on the reef is already militarizing the island they are occupying, what more the installation of rocket launchers,” Biazon pointed out.
“Our response should be decisive and firm. Anything less would be interpreted by the Chinese and other claimants as a capitulation or acquiescence,” he added.
Biazon said the favorable ruling of the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration favoring the Philippines in the territorial dispute over the South China Sea gives the country the moral authority to speak out against China’s actions.
However, President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly declined to invoke the arbitral ruling and even steered a recent summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which the Philippines chairs this year, away from the issue.
More than $5 trillion of world trade is shipped through the South China Sea every year. Besides China’s territorial claims in the area, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.
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