Philippines Discovers Illegal Chinese Structures on Its Reefs

Juan Felipe Reef
Maxar Technologies

The Philippine military has discovered new structures “illegally” built by China on some of its reefs in the South China Sea, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said on April 1.

The AFP conducted a maritime patrol off of the Philippines’ Pagkakaisa Banks on March 30 and discovered newly-built Chinese structures on some area reefs.

“During this patrol, we were able to document man-made structures that were built on some of the features. These structures are illegal,” AFP chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said in a statement on Thursday.

Pagkakaisa Banks is an atoll containing multiple islands and reefs in the West Philippine Sea, which is Manila’s name for the section of the South China Sea located directly west of the Philippines. Pagkakaisa Banks is under the jurisdiction of the Philippine municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan province.

“The Laws of the Sea gives the Philippines indisputable and exclusive rights over the area. These constructions and other activities, economic or otherwise, are prejudicial to peace, good order, and security of our territorial waters,” Sobejana said Thursday.

“We have already updated our higher civilian authorities such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of National Defense about these offenses to our sovereignty,” he added.

Gen. Sobejana referred to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In a landmark case brought by the Philippines, an independent arbitral tribunal established under UNCLOS ruled in 2016 that Beijing’s claims to nearly all of the South China Sea were illegal. Beijing refused to accept the ruling and has pressed forward with its illegal claims to roughly 90 percent of the South China Sea since then.

The Philippine Coast Guard on March 7 spotted 220 Chinese fishing vessels believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia “moored in line formation” at Juan Felipe Reef, which is located northeast of the Pagkakaisa Banks. Julian Felipe Reef lies approximately 175 nautical miles west of the Philippine province of Palawan and is located within Manila’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Manila has repeatedly demanded China recall its fishing fleet from Juan Felipe Reef, but Beijing has so far refused to move the vessels. In response, the Philippine military has ordered increased “maritime sovereignty patrols” to be carried out near Juan Felipe Reef, including daily flyovers by Philippine fighter jets. The new “illegally” built Chinese structures in the Pagkakaisa Banks were detected during one of these recent maritime patrols.

“We send aircraft every day to that [Julian Felipe Reef]. Our naval patrols need not be (sent) there to monitor,” Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement on March 26.

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