The Philippines is set to increase its military presence on the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea following a report on Beijing’s alleged construction activities on four unoccupied land features in the area, including two being claimed by Manila.
The Philippines’ Department of National Defence (DND) on Thursday ordered the armed forces to “strengthen the country’s presence in the West Philippine Sea” after monitoring what it described as “Chinese activities” close to Thitu Island in the Spratlys. DND did not give specifics.
The West Philippine Sea is Manila’s official designation for the eastern parts of the South China Sea that lie within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“Any encroachment in the West Philippine Sea or reclamation on the features therein is a threat to the security of Pag-asa Island, which is part of Philippine sovereign territory. It also endangers the marine environment and undermines the stability of the region,” DND said. Pag-asa Island is the Philippines’ name for Thitu Island.
DND issued the statement following a report that cited unnamed Western officials who accused the Chinese military of leading construction work at Eldad Reef, Lankiam Cay, Whitsun Reef and Sandy Cay. These are areas in the Spratlys archipelago near the Philippine-occupied Thitu Island.
Sandy Cay and Lankiam Cay, known as Panata Island in the Philippines, are being claimed by Manila, while Whitsun Reef lies within the country’s EEZ.
China has refused to recognize a 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling that rejected its claim over large swathes of the South China Sea and ruled the Philippines has sovereign rights over the waters within its EEZ.