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China Lingers Around Pag-Asa, the Only Philippine Stronghold in the West Philippine Sea

Pag-Asa badly needs repairs. China does not want to allow it.
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Pag-asa Island (internationally known as Thitu Island), has aging facilities, a damaged runway, and is the only Philippine stronghold in the West Philippine Sea. The 37-hectare island is the largest in the Spratlys. 

Earlier in May, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced its plan to rehabilitate and expand the island to counter China’s presence in the West Philippine Sea. 

Progress shot of the shelter port built on Pagasa Island (2020)

Photo by SCREENSHOT / FACEBOOK VIDEO / MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT OF KALAYAAN PROVINCE.

China was not pleased, and it reacted by surrounding the island with paramilitary ships. On May 28, the Philippines sent a strongly worded protest to Chinese ambassadors in Manila. 

“The Department of Foreign Affairs lodged a diplomatic protest yesterday against the incessant deployment, prolonged presence, and illegal activities of Chinese maritime assets and fishing vessels in the vicinity of the Pag-asa islands, demanding that China withdraw these vessels,” the DFA said in a statement. 

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“The Pag-asa Islands is an integral part of the Philippines over which it has sovereignty and jurisdiction.”

The Philippines has already constructed a beach ramp on Pag-asa, which will ships to unload heavy equipment and building materials. It also plans to repair and lengthen the badly eroded runway on the island. The Philippine government has also installed an ice plant on the island, which will help fishermen preserve their catch, as well as support the soldiers’ needs one more military barracks are erected. 

Pag-Asa has been occupied by the Philippines since 1971.  The island has a municipal hall, a school, a communication tower, an air strip, and military barracks. 

In recent months, the Philippines has taken a tougher stance on China’s presence in the West Philippine Sea. In March, the Philippines sent warships for the first time since 2012 to challenge China’s presence at Julian Felipe Reef. The country has also filed a barrage of diplomatic protests against China. 

Over 280 Chinese vessels were still in the West Philippine Sea as of May 9, according to the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
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