A place called ‘hope’: the tiny island on the frontline of US-China tensions
More than 100 Filipinos live 15 miles from one of Beijings most ambitious island bases in the South China Sea
On the horizon, the azure sea water stops and the white, concrete structures of the Chinese military base rise up.
Sometimes we get nervous because we are only civilians. If they invade the island, they can harm us. They can do whatever they want, says Romeo Malaguit, a fisherman and father of two, who lives on the nearby Philippine-claimed island Thitu.
Locally known as Pag-asa, meaning hope in Filipino, Thitu is a tree-studded settlement no more than 1.5km long and 800 metres wide. A dilapidated runway takes up almost half the area.
It sits within sight of Subi reef, part of one of Beijings most rapidly developing military projects a series of controversial giant bases across the South China Sea.
Few, if any, stretches of ocean are more heavily militarised by so many different governments.Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines claim parts of the South China Sea, with US backing. Beijing asserts ownership of most of the area through which about $5tn in ship-borne trade passes annually.