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China has new structures in the South China Sea as Xi visits Manila



Xi JinpingScreenshot/CGTN

  • Beijing appears to have very quickly and quietly built a new
    structure in the contested South China Sea.
  • The news comes as China’s President Xi Jinping makes the
    first state visit to Manila by a Chinese leader in 13 years.
  • After visits to Papua New Guinea and Brunei in the last week,
    Xi told his counterpart that friendship was “the only right
    choice” for China and the Philippines.
  • Newly self-confessed sinofile, Philippine President Rodrigo
    Duterte, is walking a delicate line between Washington and
    Beijing as great power tension in the Pacific is on the rise.

While Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his Chinese
counterpart, Xi Jinping, met in Manila on Tuesday, analysts at a
Washington-based think tank were poring over satellite images of
unidentified new structures in the contested South China Sea.

Timing is often everything and according to the Asia Maritime Transparency
, Beijing appears to have built a new structure on
one of the features in the South China Sea in no time at all.

With the contest for supremacy in the Pacific between Beijing and
reaching a fever pitch this week
, Xi told his counterpart
that friendship and “win-win”
cooperation was the only way forward for China and the
Philippines, regardless of Manila’s history as a staunch US ally.

“Given the profound and complex changes in the world,
good-neighborliness and friendship is the only right choice for
China and the Philippines, two developing countries and emerging
economies in Asia, and our peoples have higher expectations for
stronger ties and cooperation across the board between our two
sides,” Xi said upon his arrival on Tuesday.

Those comments ring hollow with the identification of an
unannounced and unidentified new structure near the contested
Paracel Islands.

Beijing appears to have built a new structure on one of the
features in the South China Sea, according to a new report from
the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

That’s no moon

Bombay_structure_ amtiAMTI CSIS / Digital Global

Recent satellite imagery of Bombay Reef in the Paracel Islands
shows that China has installed a new platform at the largely
untouched South China Sea feature, a territory that is also
claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

The image appears to indicate that China has developed the
contested Bombay Reef in the Paracel Islands, a more or less
untouched feature in the area.

Located at the southeastern edge of the Paracel Islands, the
structure is ideally located directly adjacent to the region’s
busy shipping lanes that channel traffic between the Paracel and
the Spratly Islands, where Beijing has also installed military

The new platform, according to the AMTI think tank connected to
the Center for Strategic and
International Studies
, measures around 90 feet long and 40
feet wide.

The structure was not noted in images taken around April and
first appeared at the reef on satellite imagery dated July 7.

“The modest new structure appears to be anchored on the north
edge of the reef and is topped by a radome and solar panels,”
reported on Tuesday

Given the Bombay Reef’s important strategic location and the fact
that the regional rivals, Taiwan and Vietnam, have both made
strident claims to the reef and other areas around the Paracels,
analysts have suggested the platform could become the first of
many such designs.

“(There is) the possibility that the structure’s rapid deployment
could be repeated in other parts of the South China Sea.

“The structure is topped by a radome measuring roughly 20 feet (6
meters) in diameter and an array of solar panels covering more
than 1,300 square-feet (124 meters). The superstructure hides any
other facilities or equipment that the platform may contain,” the
AMTI observed.

The Paracel Islands, like the rest of the chain, has been
administered by China since 1974. But until a few months ago, the
only artificial structure on the mostly-submerged reef was a
decades old

According to AMTI, the closest Chinese outposts are Lincoln
Island, some 39 nautical miles to the northeast, Woody Island,
about 47 nautical miles to the north, Duncan Island, roughly 50
nautical miles to the northwest, and Triton Island about 75
nautical miles to the west.

Until the installment of the new platform, the only artificial
structure on Bombay Reef was a run-down lighthouse on its
western side.

Read more:

The US and China are giving off bad signals ahead of a crucial
meeting between Trump and Xi Jinping

This is not a lighthouse

CSIS/Digital Globe

AMTI has identified features, including the Bombay Reef’s
strategic location that, aside from being used to serve as a
navigational aid for ships passing through near the islands, the
structure’s radome may have unconfirmed military uses.

“The radome is relatively small, especially compared to large
sensor arrays built on nearby Woody Island or on China’s major
bases in the Spratly Islands, so its capabilities are also likely
modest,” the think tank noted.

The news comes as Xi and Duterte continue to build on an entirely
new, somewhat unexpected alliance.

Xi landed in Manila Tuesday in a visit that makes up for a chill
13 years since the last state visit of a Chinese president, Jiang
Zemin during the Gloria Arroyo administration.

In that time the Philippines had taken a very a strong line on
China’s behavior in the disputed seas, even taking China to an
international tribunal.

But since the combustible Duterte has imposed his
brash style of authoritarian populism
on an impressionable
Philippines government, relations with Beijing have gone into a
kind of overdrive.

Within hours of touching down, the leaders touted some 39 new
deals. Most critically, a preliminarily agreement to cooperate on
oil and gas exploration, a move that is likely to rile the many
Filipinos wary of Chinese territorial expansionism and untrusting
of Beijing’s intentions.

A 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in a case
filed by Manila clarified, among other issues, that the
Philippines had sovereign rights to exploit energy reserves at
the Reed Bank. It also invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim
to most of the South China Sea, which the senate resolution said
was “unlawful and expansive.”

The ruling brought many Filipinos out onto the streets in

When China subsequently rejected the Hague tribunal’s ruling
outright, that support quickly turned to fury.

Philippines activists protest China
raise clinched fists as they march towards the Chinese consulate
for a protest in Manila on February 10, 2018, against Beijing’s
claims in the South China Sea after installing military
facilities and equipment on them.

ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images

But Duterte has repeatedly downplayed, mocked and even threatened
to end the cornerstone Philippine-US alliance in order to
reassure Beijing of his “love” and commitment to bilateral

Robust US pushback welcome

Prior to their talks, Duterte held a welcome ceremony in Xi’s
honor at the presidential palace featuring a 21-gun salute and
traditional dances.

However, his ostentatious displays of Sinocism could run
dangerously against the tide of popular opinion that he has so
far used adroitly to navigate through a largely welcome crackdown
on drugs and regional terrorism.

Richard Javad
Heydarian an assistant professor in political science at De La
Salle University
, and a policy adviser at the Philippine
House of Representatives between 2009 and 2015, said that Duterte
is doing his best to keep his great-power options open.

“On the surface, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte is
overseeing a new ‘golden age’ in bilateral relations with China,”
Heydarian said.

Beyond the warming diplomatic exchanges with Beijing, however,
Manila is tacitly reviving security cooperation with Washington,
its sole treaty ally, through expanded joint military exercises
and overall deepening defense cooperation”

According to Heydarian,
Duterte’s quiet pivot back to the US
is driven by the ongoing
doubts in Manila over China’s intrusion into contested waters, as
well as the absence of closure on major Chinese investments.

He added that there is now “growing confidence in the resolve of
the United States and its key allies to draw a firm line in the
South China Sea.”

Certainly, the administration of US President Donald Trump has
presented a far more prickly proposition for Beijing on both
economic and geopolitical fronts.

Trump has slapped tariffs on a further US$200 billion of Chinese
imports, while rousing support for further freedom of navigation
operations in the contested waters.

“The Philippines have quietly welcomed a more robust pushback
against China,” Heydarian said.

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