Satellite images show China construction on West PH Sea reef amid pandemic

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Photo courtesy: Simularity

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 18) – The Chinese are continuously building structures in the Panganiban Reef despite the area being inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), satellite images from American tech firm Simularity revealed.

In the software company’s latest South China Sea Rapid Alert Report released on Tuesday, seven sites appeared to have changed from May 7, 2020 to February 4, 2021 based on their satellite imagery.

For instance, Site 1 has an ongoing construction activity of a cylindrical-shaped antennae mount structure that started in early December 2020. Last May 2020, the area is only an empty lot.

Meanwhile, Site 2 has a new and large radome cover and possible fixed radar structure over it. In the previous satellite image last May, the site has unidentified structures built which has been cleared since the construction of the new structures around October to November 2020.

Satellite images revealed structures in Site 4 and Site 7 have been removed as of February this year. There is no indication of additional construction activities in the area.

On the other hand, construction equipment is seen in Site 5 and Site 6 in the February 2021 satellite photo. A rectangular area in both sites is seen in the satellite imagery, indicating possible portside works.

Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal said the new radar facilities are being completed by China as early as October 2020.

"Since October 2020, new radar facilities being completed, construction equipment and barracks moving around, areas probably being cleared for more planned buildings," Batongbacal said in his social media post.

Panganiban Reef, known internationally as Mischief Reef, is one of the territories claimed by the Philippines in its successful 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration case against China since the area is within the nation’s 370-kilometer EEZ.

The reef is located 250 kilometers west of Palawan island over the West Philippine Sea.

China does not recognize the Philippines’ international tribunal victory, asserting its nine-dash claim over the entire South China Sea. The Chinese have also been embroiled in territorial disputes with other countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Taiwan because of their historical claim.

In previous years, the Chinese transformed reefs within the Philippine EEZ into artificial islands that housed bases or settlements. These reefs include Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Calderon (Cuarteron), Burgos (Gaven), Mabini (Johnson South), Zamora (Subi) and McKennan (Hughes).