MANILA, January 13, 2003 (STAR) By Paolo Romero  - Contrary to Beijing’s claim of being a mere shelter for marooned fishermen, the Chinese-occupied Mischief Reef is a fortress secured with anti-aircraft guns and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).

This was the assertion made by top Taiwanese officials in Taipei recently as they warned Manila that the Mischief Reef, being claimed by the Philippines, is a heavily fortified communications facility.

"We are sure there are weapons there, powerful ones. And there are soldiers there masquerading as fishermen," said Sen. Parris Chang, chairman of the foreign relations committee of the Taiwanese Parliament.

Chang revealed that the disputed island is being maintained as a communication relay facility for other military installations in mainland China.

He claimed the island is also utilized by the Chinese to eavesdrop on communications of other claimant countries in the Spratly Islands.

Chang said the situation should be more compelling to the Philippines following Beijing’s deployment along the mainland’s southeastern coastline of several long-range missiles that could not only reach Taiwan, but also neighboring countries in Asia up to the eastern coast of the United States.

He warned the Philippine government must not be complacent over what he called China’s expansionist tendencies.

"Because they’re already so close to your backyard in Mischief Reef," Chang said. "As you know, China has a wide-ranging claim over the South China Sea, including the Paracell Islands."

Mischief Reef is part of the Kalayaan Island Group and is about 150 nautical miles from Palawan and 430 nautical miles from Manila.

Despite earlier assurances, senior Taiwanese foreign officials said Beijing has not ruled out their assertion over the South China Sea by military means.

This was evidenced by the deployment of long-range missiles and efforts to develop an aircraft carrier which would allow the Chinese to project their power and deploy their military forces anywhere in the area at a moment’s notice.

"Countries in the region must not tolerate the divide and conquer tactics of Beijing," said Samuel Cheng, deputy director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Philippine defense and military officials told The STAR there was basis on the assertions of the Taiwanese government.

Citing the analysis made on the two-storey structure found on the island, defense officials confirmed the building housed a sophisticated communications facility.

"There are reports that they have hidden anti-aircraft guns and SAMs," a ranking source in the intelligence community said.

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