ALL IS NOT WELL IN SOUTH CHINA SEA: A national defense analyst expressed alarm over China’s move to weaponize all the artificial islands it has built in the West Philippine Sea, saying the anti-aircraft guns can be used to shoot down Philippine aircraft in the area.
“Isa na naman itong pagpapatunay all is not well dyan sa South China Sea. Isa lang ito sa series of many moves of China. They are saying one thing and doing another,” said former Magdalo party-list representative Francisco Ashley Acedillo on DZMM.
Acedillo was reacting to the findings of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) which tracked the construction of hexagonal structures on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs in the Spratly islands.
“Yung ipinakita ng AMTI, ito po ay tinatawag na closed in weapon system—anti-aircraft as well as anti-missile. Pang malapitan lang po ito. By themselves, they are not offensive weapons. Hindi po sila pang atake,” he said.
However, he said the weapons are a concern especially since Mischief and Subi reefs are closer to islands being guarded by Philippine soldiers.
“Every time na nagpapadala tayo ng air supply mission para po bigyan ng supply ang ating tropa doon, palagi silang niraradyohan. ‘You are flying over Chinese territory’. Ang problema, next time na mag raradyo sila may nakakabit na panakot yan,” he said.
The former congressman said the weapons are still a threat to Philippine aircraft flying over the area.
“Kayang-kaya ho nilang pabagsakin yung ating mga eroplano,” he said.
AMTI said it had been tracking construction of hexagonal structures on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs in the Spratly Islands since June and July. China has already built military length airstrips on these islands.
Satellite images of Hughes and Gaven reefs showed what appeared to be anti-aircraft guns and what were likely to be close-in weapons systems (CIWS) to protect against cruise missile strikes, it said.
Images from Fiery Cross Reef showed towers that likely contained targeting radar, it said.
AMTI said covers had been installed on the towers at Fiery Cross, but the size of platforms on these and the covers suggested they concealed defense systems similar to those at the smaller reefs.
"This is militarization. The Chinese can argue that it's only for defensive purposes, but if you are building giant anti-aircraft gun and CIWS emplacements, it means that you are prepping for a future conflict," AMTI director Greg Poling said.
"They keep saying they are not militarizing, but they could deploy fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles tomorrow if they wanted to," he said.
China defended its right on Thursday to put "necessary military installations" on artificial islands in the South China Sea, saying the construction it had carried out on islands and reefs in the disputed Spratlys chain was "mainly for civilian use".
LONG RANGE WEAPONS NEXT?
Acedillo also fears the possibility that China will have military control of the area by installing more long-range weapons.
“I also have reason to believe na ang kasunod ho nito ay maglalagay na ho sila ng offensive weapons gaya ng ginawa nila doon sa Paracel Group of Islands na nag create na sila ng medyo pang long range na mga missile at tingin ko yung na ang kasunod dito,” he said.
The Philippines, one of several countries with competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, earlier said it was still verifying the report of weapons on the artificial island.
"But if true it is a big concern for us and the international community who use the South China Sea lanes for trade," said Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana. "It would mean that the Chinese are militarizing the area which is not good."
Lorenzana's comments were made during a visit to Singapore with President Rodrigo Duterte, where he also said the United States had agreed to sell the Philippine Navy two advanced radar systems to boost its surveillance capability in the South China Sea. [ADVANCED RADAR: https://news.abs-cbn.com/overseas/12/15/16/us-approves-25-million-radar-sale-to-the-ph]
For his part, Acedillo said Duterte should have offered a "cautious handshake" instead of a full embrace to China. President Duterte earlier said he is "realigning" with China's ideological flow while also eyeing stronger ties with Russia.
“Sa tingin ko po masyadong premature itong full embrace kasi yung pagsasabi nilang ayusin na lang natin yung gusot natin eh gumagawa naman sila ng mga hakbang na ikakaagrabiyado natin,” he said.
He stressed that soldiers manning the nine islands around the South China Sea may be forced to abandon the area if government fails to bring supplies to them.
“Ang kasunod niyan we will be forced na bitawan ang mga yan, iwanan yan, madaling pasukin na ng China yan kasi nandyan na sila nakaantabay na sila,” he said.
He lamented that the Philippines should have also used its arbitration leverage without necessarily embarrassing China.
“We should not be reduced to a single option na which is makisama sa China. Hindi naman tayo totally helpless. Marami pa tayong pwedeng gawin bilang maliit na bansa para di tayo maagrabyado dito,” he said