Philippines halts repair of airstrip in Spratlys

A Filipino soldier patrolling the shore of Thitu Island. The airstrip on the island has deteriorated, but the Philippine government has halted repair works on it due to its pending suit at The Hague.
A Filipino soldier patrolling the shore of Thitu Island. The airstrip on the island has deteriorated, but the Philippine government has halted repair works on it due to its pending suit at The Hague.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - The Philippines has halted the repair of its airstrip in the disputed Spratly islands due to its pending suit at The Hague challenging China's claim over the waters, a presidential spokesman said yesterday.

The work on the airstrip on Thitu Island, which the Philippines calls Pagasa and which hosts a small community, has been halted.

"The repair has been stopped because we uphold the principle of keeping the status quo in the areas involved," said Mr Herminio Coloma, spokesman for President Benigno Aquino. "This is part of our strategy for a rules-based and diplomatic approach, in which we have filed an arbitration case with the UN tribunal."

The airstrip on Pagasa was used to bring in supplies for the small town that the Philippine government established there to stake its claim over part of the Spratlys.

The airstrip, however, has deteriorated, forcing the government to rely on ships, which must pass Chinese vessels to reach the island.

China claims almost all of the Spratlys and the South China Sea. Its claim is disputed by the Philippines as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

In 2013, the Philippines asked The Hague to declare China's claim invalid and in violation of international law. Hearings to determine if Manila's complaint has legal merit and whether the court has jurisdiction over the case are set to begin next month.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2015, with the headline 'Philippines halts repair of airstrip in Spratlys'. Print Edition | Subscribe