China expanding presence on Mabini reef: sources

Posted at 05/13/14 9:22 PM

MANILA - China has been shipping large quantities of soil to a Philippines-claimed reef in the South China Sea apparently in a move to enlarge the land area for security facilities, Philippine and U.S. military sources said Tuesday.

China has been building permanent structures in the Johnson Reef, known in the Philippines as the Mabini Reef, since 2012, the sources said.

"There's an ongoing construction by the Chinese according to our intelligence reports," one Philippine military source told Kyodo News, saying the Chinese apparently plan to turn the reef into a military outpost.

Kyodo News obtained three pictures of the construction purportedly being undertaken by the Chinese military.

China's assertive moves in the disputed maritime areas close to the Philippines comes amid rising tensions between China and Vietnam over China's oil drilling operations in the South China Sea where the two countries have competing territorial claims.

At the retreat of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on Sunday, Philippine President Benigno Aquino raised Manila's concern over China's sustained expansion in the South China Sea despite an existing agreement between China and ASEAN to halt new occupations in the disputed sea.

The Philippines found in 1995 that China occupied and built structures in Mischief Reef, about 230 kilometers from Palawan, an island-province in the western Philippines facing the South China Sea.

In 2012, China occupied Scarborough Shoal, a large coral reef 230 km off the coast of Zambales Province in the main Philippine Luzon Island.

China has also maintained a constant presence of maritime surveillance ships and a frigate in Second Thomas Shoal, about 194 km off the coast of Palawan.

Like the Mischief Reef, the Scarborough Shoal and the Johnson Reef, the Second Thomas Shoal is also located within the Philippines' 200-nautical-mile, or 370 km, exclusive economic zone.