Asia

Philippines warning over China's South China Sea reclamation

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gregorio Pio Catapang shows some images of the structures being built by China at the disputed islands during a news conference at the AFP headquarters in Manila 20 April 2015. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Gen Catapang pointed to recent satellite images appearing to show China was building on reefs

The Philippines military chief has called on China to stop its work on reclaiming land in disputed territory in the South China Sea.

Gen Gregorio Catapang said Chinese "aggressiveness" was causing tensions in the region.

His comments come as the Philippines begins one of its largest joint military exercises with the US.

This year's Balikatan exercises involve more than 11,000 personnel, the biggest showing in 15 years.

China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, resulting in overlapping claims with several other Asian nations including Vietnam and the Philippines.

They say China is illegally reclaiming land in contested areas to create artificial islands with facilities that could potentially be for military use.

Image copyright IHS Jane's
Image caption Satellite images of Fiery Cross Reef (CNES 2015, Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image / IHS)

Last Friday, newly published images appeared to show that China is building an airstrip on the Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands, which the Philippines also claims.

China defended the work, saying the construction was meant to serve workers on the islands and civilian purposes such as search and rescue and fishing.

A US think tank also recently released images showing land reclamation on Mischief Reef.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption More than 11,000 troops are taking part in the joint exercise between the Philippines and the US

US President Barack Obama has expressed concern that China is using "sheer size and muscle" to elbow other countries aside.

Speaking in Manila ahead of the drills, Gen Catapang told reporters that the new evidence of land reclamation gave "compelling reasons to raise our voice to tell the whole world the adverse effects of China's aggressiveness".

He said the Philippines "believe that China's massive reclamations activities will cause tensions among claimant countries, not only because it could deter freedom of navigation, but also due to its possibility of military purposes".

The US ambassador to the Philippines, Philip Goldberg, said at the opening ceremony of the drills: "We make no pretence that we are helping the Philippines as it fields a minimum credible defence."

He said the US would "defend the important principles of freedom of navigation in the air and the sea".

The two countries' combined forces are training for 10 days and will conduct exercises and humanitarian assistance projects in the Zambales province and Subic Bay, which are by the South China Sea, said the Philippine army and the US Marines.

The US is sending about 6,650 soldiers, 76 aircraft and three ships, while the Philippines is sending about 5,000 troops, 13 aircraft and one ship, said the DPA news agency.

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