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Defense dept, lawmaker wary of China’s dredger

THE Defense department has expressed alarm over Beijing’s latest action in the hotly-contested West Philippine Sea as a Chinese dredger ship headed for the Pagasa Island.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana admited Monday that Beijing’s latest move in the West Philippine Sea was a little alarming, despite bilateral agreements forged between China and the Philippines for the de-escalation of the situation in the region.

“We have reports that they launched their big dredger, but we don’t know where it is going. We are constantly monitoring the movement of this ship,’ Lorenzana said at the sidelines of the Defense department’s 7th anniversary rites.

Lorenzana’s comment surfaced after party-list lawmaker Rep. Gary Alejano’s disclosure that the Chinese dredger ship was indeed on its way to the Philippine territory in Pagasa Island.

Alejano voiced concern over the China’s recent launching of a 140-meter long and 28-meter wide dredging vessel named  Tian Kun Hao.

Alejano said the new super dredger of China was now the largest dredger in Asia and was actually dubbed as “Asia’s most powerful island maker.”

“The Tian Kun Hao is quite alarming in itself. This newest addition in China’s maritime arsenal provides increased and faster capacity to dredge and reclaim lands,” Alejano, an opposition, said. 

“It would make it easier for China to build artificial islands and reclaim more reefs. Take for instance what China did when it reclaimed its seven reefs in 2013 to 2016. Given the earlier aggressive reclamation activities of China, one cannot help but be alarmed on what this massive dredger could do,” Alejano added.

This developed as Alejano urged the Duterte administration “to establish our direction in the West Philippine Sea”

“Hand in hand with this, the Duterte administration must set and clarify the country’s strategic direction for the West Philippine Sea before it is too late. Silence and inaction to Chinese incursions in our Exclusive Economic Zone in exchange of [sic] loans and trade gains will hurt the country’s national interests in the long run,” Alejano said.

Citing reports, Alejano said Tian Kun Hao, having a size of nine basketball courts, can dredge up to 6,000 cubic meters an hour and can dig as deep as 35 meters. Its technology also allows it to dredge in one spot and refill in another without transporting landfill material elsewhere.

“Such development in China’s maritime technology, as well as the recently spotted extensive construction of facilities in the contested Paracel Islands, highly suggests its renewed determination to assert its interests in the South China Sea.  Even the cases of Chinese incursions and harassment in Pag-asa Island in the past months are indications of the forceful assertion of its interests.” 

With the recent development, Alejano said “it is now becoming clear that China’s public pronouncements are but propaganda to smokescreen its long-term strategic objective in the South China Sea to the detriment of the interests of smaller claimant states like the Philippines.”

This development prompted the Armed Forces of the Philippines to tighten its security watch in Pagasa, despite a resolution from an international body declaring Beijing’s claims illegal.

“We have security there in Pagasa, and we also have troops… in all the the islands that we occupy, so we will know immediately if they are doing something there with all of our islands,” Lorenzana said.

“We have our ships going there. We have also our aerial patrol going there regularly, so we will be able to monitor the movement of this so-called very big dredger ship,” he added.

But Lorenzana said it might be too early to react since they had not plotted the ship’s exact destination, though admitting it was a subject of great concern once spotted over Pagasa Island.

“There’s not much because that dredger is not doing anything yet. Where it is going, what will it do, we do not know,” he said.

“But the mere presence is a little bit concerning, yes,” he added.

The defense chief said he’s in touch with his Chinese counterpart and other officials in Manila.

In the aftermath of the bilateral talks between Manila and Beijing, both agreed to defuse the tension in the territory that China claims, by agreeing to set-up a “protocol” or “mechanisms” for the two countries to observe and compliant.

Lorenzana vowed to craft such protocol in the coming days to prevent incidents in Pagasa or wherever there is misunderstanding. 

 

Topics: Defense department , West Philippine Sea
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