PHL Pagasa construction provokes Chinese paramilitary response: AMTI

Think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), designed by US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), has noted that Philippines’ construction on Pagasa Island in West Philippine Sea provoked a Chinese paramilitary response.

January 11, 2019 imagery of Pagasa Island. CSIS/AMTI photo

AMTI said that imagery shows the reclamation work in the Philippine-held island is more ambitious than a simple beaching ramp. “It seems unlikely that this area of new landfill, the equivalent of about three city blocks, is meant only as a staging area for materials and equipment brought in to repair the runway,” it noted.

Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was quoted several times that the goal of work in Pagasa Island is to create a beaching ramp enabling ships to deliver materials for the concreting of runway.

“China has responded to this new construction by deploying a large fleet of ships from Subi (Zamora) Reef, just over 12 nautical miles southwest of Thitu (Pagasa). These include several People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) and China Coast Guard (CCG) ships, along with dozens of fishing vessels ranging in size from 30 to 70 meters,” AMTI said.

AMTI also noted that as the rate of work in Pagasa increased, Chinese vessels (fishing and government vessels) increased even reaching “a high of 95 on December 20 before dropping to 42 by January 26.”

“The fishing boats have mostly been anchored between 2 and 5.5 nautical miles west of Thitu, while the naval and coast guard ships operate slightly farther away to the south and west,” it added.

Imagery of Chinese maritime militia fleet off Pagasa Island, December 20, 2018. CSIS/AMTI photo 

“The fishing vessels display all the hallmarks of belonging to China’s maritime militia, including having no gear in the water that would indicate fishing activity and disabling their Automatic Identification System (AIS) transceivers to hide their activities (for instance, on December 20 only 1 of the 95 or more vessels engaged in the deployment transmitted AIS data),” AMTI explained.