Earlier this week, photographs published by a Philippine newspaper showed that China has almost finished construction of military bases on seven man-made islands in the South China Sea. Facilities include runways, helipads, radars, control towers, missile shelters and hangars. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.
Over the past year, China pressed ahead with construction on seven reefs its engineers transformed in the Spratly Islands. The three largest now boast runways long enough for any military aircraft. Four smaller artificial islands feature helipads. The report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer described them as “military bastions” and “fortresses.”
On a visit to the United States in 2016, President Xi Jin Ping promised that China would not militarize those islands, but, in its response to the newspaper story, the Philippine Government accepted militarization as a fait accompli.
Harry Roque, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, told reporters, “I think whether we like it or not, they intended to use them as military bases.”
Two weeks after Duterte took office in 2016, an international court of arbitration rejected China’s claims to the South China Sea in general and to the reefs in particular. Rather than press the Philippines’ victory, Duterte asked for Chinese loans and investments in exchange for a promise not to reclaim any additional islands.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted legal experts, who said, if it failed to assert its rights, the Philippines would surrender vast areas of sovereign territory. Florin Hilbay, who argued the Philippines’ case before the international tribunal, wrote on social media: “The privileges of power are so fleeting compared with the enduring judgment of history and the moral indictment of fellow citizens.”