Philippines’ Spratlys tourism plan likely to rile China
MANILA THE PHILIPPINES plans to develop a disputed island in the South China Sea into a tourism centre with a 100- metre (330 ft) concrete wharf, officials said on Monday, a bold assertion of its sovereignty that is bound to rile China.
Last week, China protested the planned construction of a beaching ramp by the Philippines on the coralfringed island, the second largest in the Spratlys and the biggest occupied by the Philippines in the contested region.
The 37-hectare (91-acre) island, known internationally as Thitu and in the Philippines as Pag-Asa, is habitable, boasting fresh water and a small population of a few hundred people.
Beijing, which claims the South China Sea as its territory based on historical records, said last week that China had “indisputable sovereignty” over the area.
The development of Thitu comes as a territorial squabble over the South China Sea enters a new and more contentious chapter, with claimant nations searching deeper into disputed waters for energy supplies while building up their navies and military alliances, especially with the United States.
Proven and undiscovered oil reserve estimates in the South China Sea range as high as 213 billion barrels of oil, the US.
Energy Information Administration said in a 2008 report. That would surpass every country’s proven oil reserves except Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, according to the BP Statistical Review.
US President Barack Obama has sought to reassure regional allies that Washington would serve as a counterbalance to a newly assertive China in the South China Sea, part of his campaign to “pivot” US foreign policy more intensely on Asia after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Spratlys, a group of 250 uninhabitable islets spread over 427,350 sq km (165,000 sq miles), are claimed entirely by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and in part by Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.
A Philippine navy commander said local authorities planned to transform military- held areas of the Spratlys into tourist attractions, including potential diving spots.
In the 1990s, Japanese tourists frequented the area for its pristine beaches and coral reefs, ferried by yacht from Cebu Island in the Philippines. But the military will first build a pier on Thitu, possibly by the second half of the year, Juan Sta Ana, head of the Philippine Ports Authority, told Reuters.
A panel of defence, tourism and transportation and communications officials will finalise a development plan for the island after April 8
“We’ll know, by that time, when we will actually start and how long would it take for the pier to be constructed,” he added.