China tried to stop repairs, Lorenzana's visit to Pag-asa Island

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Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana talks to soldiers on Pag-asa Island in April 2017. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 23) — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Friday revealed how China tried to stop the government from repairing structures on Pag-asa Island, one of the biggest islands in the disputed Spratlys in the South China Sea.

Speaking before a forum on the maritime row, Lorenzana recalled his meetings with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua.

"When he learned that we're going to repair our runway in Pag-asa, he came to me and said, 'No,'" Lorenzana said.

Pag-asa Island is the seat of the Kalayaan municipal government under the province of Palawan. Philippine troops and a community of fishermen live on the island. The government began repairing the collapsed runway on Pag-asa in May 2017.

READ: Palace defends Philippine construction in Spratlys  

Lorenzana said that in response to Zhao, "We pointed out to them that it's just proper for us to improve the runway and every facility in the Pag-asa because they have already developed Subi Reef."

China has installed missile systems and other equipment in Subi Reef, one of the China-occupied features in the the Spratly group of islands.

Lorenzana said Zhao also wanted him to call off a visit to Pag-asa Island in April 2017.

"When he learned that I was going to Pag-asa he came to me and tried to deceive me from going there. He gave a lot of reasons - some countries might follow me daw (he said) to go to the islands," Lorenzana said.

The visit pushed through, making Lorenzana the first defense chief to set foot on the island.

READ: Duterte to visit Pag-asa Island before his term ends – Palace