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Security Concerns Over China’s Alleged Reclamation

An image captured by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) during a Maritime Domain Awareness flight on February 21, 2023, depicts the Chinese Coast Guard's continued presence in both Ayungin Shoal and Sabina Shoal, located within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. Photo credit: NTF West Philippine Sea.

A Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) flight observed the ongoing presence of China’s Coast Guard in both Ayungin Shoal and Sabina Shoal within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, as of February 21, 2023.

MANILA — China’s recent efforts of the Reclamation of land at Escoda Shoal, located just 120 kilometers off Palawan, pose a significant security threat to the Philippines, analysts warn. According to Chester Cabalza, president of the Manila-based think tank International Development and Security Cooperation, China has targeted Escoda Shoal to extend its hold from the nearby Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef), which it occupied in 1995. Cabalza highlighted the strategic significance of the shoal to China’s broader ambitions in the South China Sea.

“The situation is critical as this proximity offers China a tactical advantage in times of conflict,” Cabalza explained to ABS-CBN News.

Following a detailed survey, PCG spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela revealed that crushed corals were found dumped at Escoda, likely in preparation for building an artificial island. Cabalza further noted that Escoda is a barangay within the Kalayaan Island Group, legally part of Palawan province. “This act of reclamation by China is an attempt to assert control over a shoal that rightfully belongs to the Philippines,” he asserted.

Amidst these developments, former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio expressed concerns that China might establish a military outpost near Reed Bank (Recto Bank), an area rich in oil and gas resources. “Setting up an outpost could hinder our access to these vital resources,” Carpio stated.

The Chinese Embassy in the Philippines, through Tom Wu, director of its media section, reiterated China’s claim to historical sovereignty over the South China Sea. However, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in 2016 that China’s expansive claims, based on its “nine-dash line,” are not aligned with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Carpio suggested that the Philippines should pursue legal action against China for the damages caused by these reclamation activities, as they violate UNCLOS and the arbitration tribunal’s rulings. “Building an artificial island on our EEZ without consent is a clear infringement of our sovereign rights,” he concluded.


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