Plans are underway to reinforce and upgrade facilities on Pagasa Island, in the Spratly Islands chain, senior Philippine military officials told the official Philippine News Agency (PNA).
It’s unclear how China will react to the military build-up. While it’s far less aggressive than actions China has taken in the region, the country traditionally does not react well to any territorial challenges.
Aerial view of a reef near Philippines-controlled Pagasa Island in the South China Sea.
In April, Duterte said he may raise the Philippines flag on Pagasa, also known as Thitu Island, on the country’s independence day on June 12.
Filipino children hold up a national flag during a 2015 protest on Pagasa island against Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea.
That military presence is now being ramped up. Lt. Gen. Raul Del Rosario, head of the Philippines Western Command, said troops and some initial supplies were transported to the island last week, according to PNA.
Full scale construction will take place once all materials are landed, Rosario said. Plans include airstrip expansion, port and power developments, and civilian research projects.
“I think if you’re sitting in Beijing you have to be very pleased that Donald Trump is in the White House because he is ceding to China a great deal in terms of clout and advantage,” Mike Chinoy, non-resident senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s US China Institute, told CNN last week.
“In the meantime, countries in Asia that have not wanted a US-China clash but have wanted substantial American presence to counterbalance the growing clout of China … are going to calculate that they can’t count on the US in the way they did before.”