By Martin Sadongdong
The Philippine military continues to press on the development of Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea despite the constant presence of suspected Chinese militias disguised as fishing boats allegedly out to harass Filipino soldiers and hamper their works.
In a tweet on Sunday, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) based in Washington, United States said it has tracked the presence of Chinese militias around Pag-asa Island “for 450 days and counting,” and the progress of the runway repairs and harbor construction being worked on by the small Filipino contingent occupying the island.
China has maintained a militia presence around Philippine-occupied Thitu Island for over 450 days and counting. Satellite imagery analysis from AMTI tracks the militia presence, as well as Philippine runway repairs and harbor construction: https://t.co/ILXasVOnCt pic.twitter.com/OQj9VPIAEd
— AMTI (@AsiaMTI) March 8, 2020
The CSIS-AMTI first released on Thursday, March 5, satellite images of Chinese boats which started swarming Pag-asa Island in December 2018 and has since been monitored until early March of this year.
It said China deployed the militia vessels to delay the efforts of the Philippine military to repair a beaching ramp and a runway, which Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana sees as key structures in defending the territory from possible invasion.
It was in 2017 when Lorenzana announced that development works would be undertaken in Pagasa Island.
He had said that the completion of the beaching ramp in the northern part of the island will pave the way for the repair of the runway.
Once the key structures are complete, it would strengthen the Philippine troops’ hold of the area which they have occupied since 1971, he had said.
Aside from a military contingent, a small community of fishermen has also been living in the island.
In July 2019, Lorenzana said the construction of the beaching ramp on Pag-asa Island was already 60-percent complete. He had projected that it would be finished by the end of 2019, behind the original schedule that was December 2018.
However, the developments again suffered delays because of bad weather in the island which prevented constructors from bringing in materials, he said.
But CSIS-AMTI said the presence of the Chinese boats have contributed to the delay in the development of Pag-asa Island.
Despite the reported Chinese intimidation, the CSIS-AMTI said that the Philippines “has slowly made progress on its upgrade work at Thitu [Pag-asa Island].”
The CSIS-AMTI said that more recent imagery on February 13, 2020 showed that dredging on the northern part of the island has been completed, and was being turned into a small harbor. The Philippine forces started the “ambitious” dredging and landfill work on the island in January 2019, it added.
“This should improve the quality of llife for Thitu’s civilian fishers, make resupply easier, and facilitate other planned construction like a desalination plant, solar arrays, and improved housing,” the US think tank said.
It added that the development could allow Philippine Navy and law enforcement agencies to rotationally deploy vessels to Pag-asa Island for the first time.