The Philippine defense chief has demanded that more than 200 Chinese vessels that he said were manned by militias leave a reef in the South China Sea claimed by Manila, calling their presence a “provocative move to militarize the area. “.
“We call on the Chinese to stop this incursion and immediately remember these ships that violate our maritime rights and invade our sovereign territory,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement on Sunday, adding without elaborating that the Philippines will defend your sovereign rights.
A government watchdog overseeing the disputed region said that some 220 Chinese ships were seen moored at the Whitsun reef, which Beijing also claims, on March 7. He posted images of the ships side by side in one of the most controversial areas of the strategic waterway.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said late Sunday that the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest over the Chinese presence.
The reef, which Manila calls Julián Felipe, is a shallow, boomerang-shaped coral region about 175 nautical miles (324 km) west of the city of Bataraza in the western Philippine province of Palawan. It is within the country’s exclusive economic zone, over which the Philippines “enjoys the exclusive right to exploit or conserve any resource,” the government watchdog said.
The large number of Chinese vessels is “a concern for possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to the safety of navigation,” he said, although he added that the vessels were not fishing when they were spotted.
Chinese fishing fleets have long been suspected of being used as maritime militias to help assert Beijing’s territorial claims, though China has downplayed those claims.
The Philippine military chief, Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana, said that the “highest priority of the military continues to be the protection of our citizens in the area, particularly our fishermen, through increased maritime patrols.”
Officials at the Chinese embassy did not immediately comment. China, the Philippines and four other governments have been locked in a tense territorial standoff over the resource-rich and occupied waterway for decades.
Critics have repeatedly criticized President Rodrigo Duterte, who has fostered friendly ties with Beijing since taking office in 2016, for failing to confront China’s aggressive behavior and deciding not to immediately require China to comply with an international arbitration ruling that it invalidated Beijing’s historical claims on virtually the entire sea. China has refused to acknowledge the 2016 ruling, which it called “a sham,” and continues to challenge it.
“When Xi says ‘I’ll fish’, who can help it?” Duterte said two years ago while defending his non-confrontational approach, referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“If I send my Marines to chase away the Chinese fishermen, I guarantee that none of them will return home alive,” Duterte said at the time, adding that diplomatic talks with Beijing allowed the Filipinos to return to the disputed fishing grounds where the Chinese forces had done it before. forced them to walk away.
Duterte has sought infrastructure, trade and investment funds from China, which has also donated and pledged to deliver more Covid-19 vaccines as the Philippines faces an alarming increase in coronavirus infections.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism