Philippines Protests China’s ‘Illegal’ Presence in South China Sea

The Philippines protests China’s continued “illegal presence and activities” near an island it owns in the South China Sea, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Saturday (May 29).

Manila lodged a diplomatic protest Friday near Titu Island over the “continued deployment, prolonged presence and illegal activities of Chinese maritime assets and fishing vessels.

The Philippines has asked China to withdraw its vessels.

Tensions have escalated between Manila and Beijing over the months-long presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels in the Philippines’ 200-mile-long exclusive economic zone. The Philippines says they believe the boats are the work of militias, while Beijing says they are fishing boats taking shelter from bad weather.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs said, “The Pag’aza Islands are an integral part of the Philippines. The Philippines has sovereignty and jurisdiction over it.”

Thitu, known as Pag-asa in the Philippines, is 451 kilometers (280 miles) from the mainland and is the largest of the eight reefs, shoals and islands it occupies in the Spratlys.

China has built a mini-city with runways, hangars and surface-to-air missiles on Subi Reef, about 20 kilometers (15 miles) away.

This is at least the 84th diplomatic protest the Philippines has lodged against China since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016.

An international tribunal that year invalidated China’s claims of expansion in the South China Sea, through which some $3 trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims to various islands and areas in the region.

Duterte set aside the favorable ruling and reached a settlement with Beijing in exchange for billions of dollars in loans, aid and investment pledges, many of which are pending.