As world is on edge over COVID-19, it’s ‘business as usual’ for China in West Philippine Sea

MANILA, Philippines — A Chinese military transport plane has been spotted on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, a Philippine-claimed territory but now being occupied by China in the West Philippine Sea.

Analysts said the sighting of the Chinese military aircraft in the area was a sign of unceasing Chinese military operations in the South China Sea despite global anxiety over the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which started in China.

Satellite image posted by ImageSat International (ISI), a commercial provider of high-resolution satellite images, showed a Chinese Y-8 transport aircraft on March 28 on Kagitingan Reef.

South #China Sea: Routine operation of transport #aircraft in the #SouthChinaSea could indicate that the #Chinese #military is hardly affected by the #COVID19 crisis. #IMINT #VISINT #DEFENSE #intelligence #ISI #AI #Airforce pic.twitter.com/phbKFELm0k

— ImageSat Intl. (@ImageSatIntl) March 29, 2020

“Routine operation of transport aircraft in the South China Sea area could indicate that the Chinese military is hardly affected by the country’s health crisis,” ISI said on Twitter on Sunday (March 29).

Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea, both civilian and military, continue in the island while the rest of the world is grappling with COVID-19.

The Chinese government recently launched two research stations on Kagitingan and Zamora (Subi) reefs, two of China’s three large man-made military bases in the West Philippine Sea.

RELATED: China launches new facilities in West PH Sea just as world’s eyes fixed on COVID-19

Analysts said that the launch of new facilities, while civilian in nature, is Beijing’s strategy to assert claims over the disputed waters.

But China’s recent deployment of a military transport plane, while not the first time, meant it was “business as usual” for Beijing even as the whole world is on edge over the rapid increase of COVID-19 cases everywhere.

RELATED: China military planes land on PH reef

“It’s definitely business-as-usual for the PLA (People’s Liberation Army), coronavirus or not,” said Collin Koh, Singapore-based maritime security expert, on Twitter.

“At this juncture, it is even more important for Beijing to demonstrate its ability to maintain its readiness posture in the South China Sea, as an ostensible signal to both domestic and external audiences,” Koh said.

China in recent years had transformed reefs and islands into outposts fitted and equipped with harbors, airstrips, missile shelters, communications facilities which expanded its ability to monitor its and rivals’ activities in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims to almost entirely own.

The 2016 decision by the United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal in the Hague ruled that Beijing’s claims have no basis and its South China Sea construction frenzy was illegal.

Edited by TSB

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