The Philippine government has discovered more than 200 fishing boats on a rocky reef in the South China Sea that is under dispute with China over sovereignty. The Philippine government expressed concern, but did not immediately protest.
The Associated Press reported that the Philippine government agency overseeing the disputed area said Saturday (March 20) evening that about 220 Chinese boats were anchored in the waters around Bull Yoke Reef (Whi (Whitsun Reef) on March 7. The Philippine government believes the men on the fishing boats are militiamen.
The Philippines calls the reef Julian Felipe, a boomerang-shaped area of shallow coral about 175 nautical miles (324 kilometers) west of the town of Bataraza in the western Philippine province of Palawan. It lies entirely within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and the Philippines “has the exclusive right to exploit or protect any resources,” the agency said in a statement.
The statement said the presence of a large number of Chinese vessels has raised concerns on the Philippine side due to possible overfishing, damage to the marine environment and navigational safety risks. But the statement said the boats were not fishing when they were spotted.
AFP reported that Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Sunday he was “awaiting orders from the national security adviser and the defense secretary to open fire” before lodging a diplomatic protest.
Reuters reported that Philippine Defense Secretary Lorenzana on Sunday called on China to recall the some 220 Chinese militia vessels mentioned above, calling their presence a “clear militarization provocation.
In a statement, Lorenzana said, “We call on China to stop this intrusion and immediately recall these vessels that violate our maritime rights and infringe on our sovereign territory.”
The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately return a request for comment from AFP.
The United States has previously accused China of using maritime militias to “intimidate, coerce and threaten” other countries and regions with sovereign claims in the South China Sea. Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last July that China’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea are “completely illegitimate. This is the first Time the U.S. government has taken a position on the sovereignty dispute in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is one of the world’s busiest sea lanes. The waters are Home to 10 percent of the world’s fish and are rich in oil and natural gas resources. China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to the South China Sea.
China has ignored a 2016 ruling by an international tribunal that declared that China’s “nine-dash line” sovereignty claim has “no legal basis” and that China has no “historical rights” in the South China Sea. “.
Critics have repeatedly pointed to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s failure to confront China’s aggressive behavior and his decision not to rush China to comply with the international arbitration ruling.
Duterte has maintained friendly relations with Beijing since taking office in 2016. In defending his non-confrontational approach two years ago, Duterte said, “When Xi Jinping says ‘I want to fish,’ who can stop him?”
He also said at the time, “If I send the Marines to chase away the Chinese fishermen, I guarantee that none of you will go home alive.” Duterte also said his diplomatic talks with Beijing had allowed the Filipinos to return to the disputed fishing grounds, and that they would be driven out before then.
Duterte has been seeking Chinese funding for infrastructure as well as trade and investment. With the alarming increase in the number of new coronavirus infections in the Philippines, China has provided donations and pledged to provide more new coronavirus vaccines.