China, Philippines argue over defense chief’s island visit
China has protested the visit by Manila’s defense and military chiefs to a disputed island in the South China Sea, but the Philippine government maintained Saturday that it owns the territory where Filipino troops and villagers have lived for decades.
The public argument comes amid a thaw in once-frosty relations between the neighbors after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office last June and moved to rekindle Manila’s friendship with Beijing, which has been strained by the long-seething territorial disputes.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and military chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Ano flew to the island, which Filipinos call Pag-asa, with dozens of journalists Friday to inspect an eroded airstrip. The Philippine government plans to reinforce and lengthen the airstrip and build a dock starting next month to accommodate ships with construction materials, Lorenzana said.
About 1.6 billion pesos ($32 million) has been earmarked for the construction, including a fish port, solar power, water desalination plant, improved housing for soldiers, and facilities for marine research and tourists.
Accompanied by military top brass, Lorenzana and Ano also met Filipino troops and villagers and took part in a flag-raising ceremony on Pag-asa, which is internationally known as Thitu and is called Zhongye Dao by China. It’s the second-largest island in the South China Sea’s hotly contested Spratlys archipelago.