IN PHOTOS: The China build-up

Rappler.com
President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the military to occupy and build structures in Philippine territory in the South China Sea. China has been building its own way before this.

STAND OFF. Philippine navy troops inspects a Chinese fishing vessel loaded with giant clam shells off scarborough Shoal in April 2012. Photo from DFA/PN

MANILA, Philippines – On Thursday, April 6, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the military to occupy and build structures in Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). In particular, he said he wanted to “fortify” Pag-asa in the Kalayaan Island Group by building bunkers and other structures in the Philippine-occupied island.

China responded by raising its “concern” over the plan, and said the Philippines should “properly handle” its maritime dispute with China in a way that would ensure the “stable growth” of their bilateral relations.

Just 5 years ago, such a civil response from China would have been unimaginable. On April 8, 2012, the Philippine Navy apprehended 8 Chinese vessels anchored in the waters of Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal). Three months later, China took control of the area by creating a barrier to the entrance of the shoal, denying Filipino fishermen access to the rich fishing grounds. A standoff between Manila and Beijing ensued.

In June 2013, the Philippine government filed a case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, the Netherlands to settle the dispute. In 2016, the court ruled in favor of the Philippines.

The Philippines and China have claims on islands, reefs and rocks in the West Philippine Sea. In 1978, the Philippines staked its claim in the Spratlys by occupying islands which it collectively calls the Kalayaan Island Group, attached to Palawan.

Beijing claimed the Paracel islands following its victory in the battle against South Vietnam in 1974. In 1987, China was able to build a marine observation station on Fiery Cross Reef (Kagitingan) under the Global Sea Level Observing System (GLOSS) of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.

China’s project has led to a massive reclamation activity in the Spratlys, particularly in the reefs contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia.

The Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative noted that “since 2013, China has engaged in unprecedented and ecologically devastating dredging and island-building at all 7 of the islets and reefs it occupies in the Spratly Islands. To date, Beijing has created more than 3,200 acres of new land.”

FIERY CROSS/KAGITINGAN REEF. In 1998, China built a weather station that is seen in a photo from January 2006 (above). After a decade (bottom), the marine observation station became a military fortress. All photos courtesy of CSIS/AMTI/Digital Globe

MISCHIEF/PANGANIBAN REEF. China occupied the reef in 1993 after building structures in stilts for its fishermen. The photo below shows how the reef looks like in 2016.

SUBI/ZAMORA REEF. One of the 'Big 3' in the disputed territories. Photo shows how the reef looks like in July 2012 and after 4 years (below).

CUARTERON/CALDERON REEF. No structure is visible in 2011. Below, a Chinese naval facility is seen in January 2016.

GAVEN/BURGOS REEF. Was just a rock in 2007. On March 2015 (below) a Chinese facility is seen constructed.

HUGHES/McKENNAN REEF. Like Gaven, the reef was structure-less in 2008. On March 2015, a Chinese facility can be seen (below).

JOHNSON/MABINI REEF. No structure can be found in 2004. 11 years after, a Chinese radar facility (below).

 – Rappler.com