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.
“I think we would use the international community to step up and to say that we need to manage the tensions in the South China Sea before it gets out of hand,” del Rosario said.
China began building a school on the largest island in the disputed Paracel chain to serve the children of military personnel and others on Saturday, two years after it established a city there to administer hundreds of thousands of square kilometers (miles) of water where it wants to strengthen its control over potentially oil-rich islands that are also claimed by other Asian nations.
The island, known as Yongxing Island and Woody Island, is 350 kilometers (220 miles) south of China’s southernmost province. Vietnam also claims the Paracel chain.
Del Rosario told ABS-CBN News that China is accelerating its “expansion agenda” in the South China Sea to get it completed before ASEAN countries and China draw up a code of conduct that sets rules to prevent incidents in the South China Sea.
He said a suggestion from Danny Russel, the U.S. top diplomat in East Asia, for a freeze in activities which escalate tensions in the area while a code of conduct is being worked out is “a reasonable approach” and one “I would like to initiate.”
When China created Sansha city on Yongxing Island 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 the Sansha government.
Now it has an airport, hotel, library, five main roads, cellphone coverage and a 24-hour satellite TV station, according to the government. It also has its own supply ship that brings in food, water, construction materials and people.
Tensions in the area have escalated since China last month placed an oil rig in waters about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the Paracel Islands, leading to ongoing sea confrontations between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels.
On Sunday, the Philippines announced it had recently protested a land reclamation by China in the McKennan-Hughes reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. In April, Philippine officials protested after discovering Chinese vessels had reclaimed a large patch of land in Johnson South Reef, also in the Spratlys.
Philippine officials have reported Chinese land reclamations in two other Spratly reefs, called Cuarteron and Gaven, saying China could build military bases and airstrips on the reclaimed areas to boost its military presence.