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Manila to propose construction freeze in disputed waters

AP

The Philippines said Monday it would propose a moratorium on construction in the South China Sea, two days after China began building a school on a rugged outpost it created to strengthen its claims to disputed waters.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said he will propose that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations call for a moratorium — a move that China is likely to ignore or dismiss.

China on Saturday began building a school on the largest island in the disputed Paracel chain to serve the children of military personnel and others.

China established the settlement of Sansha on tiny Yongxing Island in July 2012 to administer hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of water where it wants to strengthen its control over potentially oil-rich islands also claimed by other Asian nations.

The island, also known as Woody Island, is 350 km (220 miles) south of China’s southernmost province and is part of the Paracel chain, which is also claimed by Vietnam.

Del Rosario told ABS-CBN News that China is accelerating its “expansion agenda” in the South China Sea in order achieve it before ASEAN countries and China draw up a code of conduct that sets rules to prevent incidents in the South China Sea.

When China created Sansha in July 2012, the outpost had a post office, bank, supermarket, hospital and a population of about 1,000. By December, it had a permanent population of 1,443, which can sometimes swell by 2,000, according to Sansha officials.

Now it has an airport, hotel, library, five main roads, cellphone coverage and a 24-hour satellite TV station as well as its own supply ship that brings in food, water, construction materials and people.

On Sunday, Manila announced it had recently protested land reclamation work by China on the McKennan-Hughes reef, in the South China Sea’s disputed Spratly Islands.

Philippine officials have reported Chinese land reclamation in two other Spratly reefs, called Cuarteron and Gaven. China could build military bases, wharves and airstrips on the reclaimed areas to considerably boost its military presence in the disputed region, Philippine officials say.