This Country Has the Most Outposts in The West Philippine Sea. It is Not China

The Philippines comes in second.

There is a disproportionate amount of distrust toward China when it comes to the number of reefs it occupies in the West Philippine Sea. Not that Filipinos should not be angry—they should—but there is one country that occupies more reefs in the West Philippine Sea than the Philippines and China combined. 

Since 1989, Vietnam has been very aggressive in claiming the entirety of the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea, erecting numerous outposts in the region more than any other county. 

Data from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) shows Vietnam, among all the countries in Asia, has the most outposts in the region. Surprisingly, the Philippines comes in second.

Currently, Vietnam controls over 21 structures in the area, according to a study by The Diplomat. They are the following:

  1. Southwest Cay 
  2. South Reef 
  3. Petley Reef 
  4. Sand Cay 
  5. Namyit Island 
  6. Discovery Great Reef 
  7. Sin Cowe Island 
  8. Collins Reef 
  9. Lansdowne Reef 
  10. Sin Cowe East Island 
  11.  Ladd Reef 
  12. Spratly Island 
  13. West Reef 
  14. Central Reef 
  15. East Reef 
  16. Pearson Reef 
  17. Allison Reef 
  18. Cornwallis South Reef 
  19. Pigeon or Tennent Reef 
  20. Barque Canada Reef 
  21. Amboyna Cay 

However, Vietnam claims it occupies 33 outposts, including lighthouses and other structures erected before 1989. Of the structures controlled and occupied by Vietnam, 12 are within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) which is an area that stretches out 200 nautical miles from the country’s baseline. 

Below is an infographic map by the CSIS showing the outposts in the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea. 

Photo by Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Philippines is the second country with the most outposts in the region, according to The Diplomat. Many of these outposts are in very bad condition, such as its severely eroded ship in Ayungin Shoal or Second Thomas Shoal. The Philippines has nine outposts in the West Philippine Sea: 

  1. Northeast Cay (Parola)
  2. Thitu Island (Pag-Asa)
  3. Loaita Cay (Panata)
  4. Loaita Island (Kota)
  5. West York Island (Likas)
  6. Flat Island (Patag)
  7. Nanshan Island (Lawak)
  8. Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin)
  9. Commodore Reef (Rizal)

Of the nine, Pag-Asa Island is the largest. It is also the second-largest island in the South China Sea. 

Meanwhile, China occupies seven reefs, of which, five are within the areas claimed by the Philippines. The following are the reefs occupied by China: 

  1. Subi Reef 
  2. Gaven Reef 
  3. Hughes Reef 
  4. Johnson South Reef 
  5. Fiery Cross Reef
  6. Cuarteron Reef 
  7. Mischief Reef 

Although only three Chinese outposts are within the Philippines’ EEZ, the other two fall within the continental shelf claimed by the Philippines. 

Many people think that the farthest border of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea is the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) which stretches 200 nautical miles from the baseline. However, beyond the EEZ is the Philippines’ extended continental shelf (ECS). According to the provisions in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), only the adjacent archipelagic state like the Philippines can exploit and use resources under the ECS and on its seabed.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
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