PCG reacts to Vietnam's reclamation works in South China Sea

Barque Canada Reef.jpg
Barque Canada Reef remains Vietnam’s largest outpost in the Spratly Islands. (Photo courtesy of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative)

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) appears to have no issues with Vietnam's island-building activities in the South China Sea (SCS).

Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesperson for West Philippine Sea (WPS), gave his two cents on Hanoi's reported accelerated expansion in its outposts in the Spratly Islands or Kalayaan Island Group (KIG).

"Vietnam focuses on minding their own affairs and reclaiming maritime features they occupied before the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the SCS," Tarriela said on Sunday, June 9, when sought for a reaction on Vietnam's reported activities in the Spratly Islands.

In a report released on June 7, United States-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said that Vietnam has created 692 new acres of land across a total of 10 features, compared to 404 acres created in the first 11 months of 2023 and 342 acres in 2022.

The AMTI said this brings the total of Vietnam’s overall dredging and landfill (including both landfill and harbor/channel dredging) in disputed areas of the South China Sea to approximately 2,360 acres — roughly half of China’s 4,650 acres.

The AMTI reported that the scale of Vietnam’s activity can be seen in a look at the largest outposts in the Spratly Islands by land area.

The think tank said that China’s "big three" outposts namely Mischief Reef (locally known as Panganiban Reef), Subi Reef (Zamora Reef), and Fiery Cross Reef (Kagitingan Reef) remain the largest, while the next four biggest outposts are all newly expanded Vietnamese reefs: Barque Canada Reef, Namyit Island, Pearson Reef, and Discovery Great Reef.

In 2002, the member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in South China Sea which seek to "enhance favourable conditions for a peaceful and durable solution of differences and disputes among countries concerned."

Several countries have overlapping maritime claims in the SCS including the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

In mid-2010, China started its reclamation works on some features it claims in the Spratly Islands, turning them into artificial islands and equipping them with military facilities.

While Tarriela has been a fierce critic of China's activities in the South China Sea, it appears that it was not the same for Vietnam if his recent statement is to be based.

The reason? Tarriela explained: "They do not engage in harassing our fishermen or illegally deploying coast guard vessels and maritime militia in the waters surrounding our occupied maritime features."