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Philippines starts construction near China's manmade islands in disputed waters

From Reuters - November 7, 2017

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines has started upgrading military facilities on the biggest features it occupies in the disputed South China Sea, its defense secretary said on Tuesday, asserting Manilas claims in the strategic waterway.

Delfin Lorenzana said a contractor was building a beach ramp on Thitu Island, locally known as Pag-asa (hope), the largest of nine features the Philippines holds in the Spratly islands.

While construction is ongoing, albeit intermittently, depending on good weather, we expect its completion by early 2018, Lorenzana said, adding the monsoon rains have been hampering the building of the beach ramp.

No construction can proceed without a good beaching ramp.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on the waterway where more than $3 trillion worth of sea-borne goods pass every year.

Recent satellite imagery has shown Chinese vessels gathering around Thitu, in what some experts say could be an attempt to deter the Philippines from cementing its claim. Chinas ambassador has played that down, insisting his country has no ill intent.

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