Philippines Says 220 Chinese Vessels Spotted at Disputed Reef
By Siegfrid AlegadoMarch 21, 2021, 11:03 AM GMT+8
The Philippines expressed “concern” after spotting what it said were Chinese fishing vessels at a reef claimed by it and China, and could file a diplomatic protest on the presence of the boats.
About 220 Chinese vessels were seen moored in line at Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea on March 7, a government task force overseeing the disputed seas said in a statement on Saturday.
The area, which the Southeast Asian nation calls Juan Felipe, is a large but shallow boomerang-shaped coral reef within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, the task force said. The vessels’ presence is “a concern due to the possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to safety of navigation,” it said.
Both China and the Philippines have overlapping claims in the resource-rich South China Sea. In January, the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest against China’s law giving its coast guard freedom to fire on foreign vessels.
A protest over the 220 vessels may be lodged if Philippine military generals recommend it, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said in a Twitter post on Sunday.
Philippines spots hundreds of Chinese ‘militia’ boats near disputed reef
Sunday, 21 Mar 2021 05:48 PM MYT
MANILA, March 21 — More than 200 Chinese fishing vessels believed to be crewed by militia have been spotted near a disputed reef off the Philippines, a government agency said, expressing “concern” over their presence.
The Philippine coast guard detected the boats “in line formation” at the boomerang-shaped Whitsun Reef around 320 kilometres west of Palawan Island on March 7, a task force charged with monitoring the South China Sea said yesterday.
It said “around 220 Chinese Maritime Militia Vessels” were in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
“Despite clear weather at the time, the Chinese vessels massed at the reef showed no actual fishing activities,” the task force said.
The agency “notes this circumstance as a concern due to the possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to safety of navigation.”
Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said today he was “waiting for the order to fire” from the country’s national security adviser and defence chief before lodging a diplomatic protest.
The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The United States has previously accused China of using maritime militia to “intimidate, coerce and threaten other nations” over its claims to almost the entire South China Sea.
The resource-rich waterway is also contested by several countries, including the Philippines.
China has ignored a 2016 international tribunal decision that declared its assertion as without basis.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has cosied up to Beijing since taking power in 2016, set aside the ruling in exchange for Chinese trade and investment.
He has repeatedly said conflict with China would be futile and that the Philippines would lose and suffer heavily in the process.
In 2019, the Philippines also complained after hundreds of Chinese ships were seen near Pag-asa island, also known as Thitu, which the country branded as “illegal” in a rare rebuke of Beijing. — AFP