Night Watch

Philippines-Spratly Islands-China: The Philippines accused China of engaging in construction on Johnson South Reef in the Union Banks of the Spratly Islands. The Philippines also claims the reef and contends that the construction and the reclamation work violate understandings that claimants would undertake no provocative acts.

Philippine Foreign Ministry spokesman Charles Jose told the press that China has been improving the reef since January or February and appears to be preparing to build an airstrip. The Philippines filed a formal protest with China on 4 April.

Today, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying confirmed that China is building on Johnson South Reef. "Construction by the Chinese side on an island in Chinese territory is entirely a matter that comes under Chinese sovereignty," she said. She declined to say what China was building.

Comment: Johnson South Reef is about 250 miles west of the Philippine island of Palawan. In 1988, China captured Johnson South Reef from Vietnam in an armed skirmish in which at least 70 Vietnamese died. China maintains a manned outpost on the island, which is barely above sea level. Philippine press sources reported that Chinese ships have been carrying large shipments of soil to the island to build it up.

It is not clear what the Chinese are building. If China is building an airstrip, it would be its first in the Spratlys. The islet needs a lot of work to make it suitable for a landing strip. Long before that time, it might be suitable for a surveillance radar system. That would heighten concern that China intends to declare an air defense zone for the South China Sea, as it did for the East China Sea.

China-Vietnam: Update. The Chinese Embassy in Hanoi on 14 May issued a safety warning to Chinese firms and workers in Vietnam after angry crowds burned 15 foreign-owned factories in the south. The crowds protested China's placement of an oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam.

At the oil rig site, the naval confrontation continued on Tuesday when ships bumped each other again. No casualties were reported.

India: For the record. Election officials said that the results of the general elections will be announced on 15 May. Most analysts expect the Congress Party to experience a major electoral defeat.


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