AFP chief: Chinese ships near Pag-Asa Island no cause for worry
Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr. has played down reports that Chinese militia vessels have been gathering near Pag-asa (Thitu) Island in the South China Sea since construction started for a beaching ramp on the Philippine-occupied island.
Madrigal told reporters during the change of command ceremony for the new AFP deputy chief of staff for plans (J5) on Tuesday at Camp Aguinaldo that freedom of movement had not been hampered by the presence of the Chinese vessels.
The Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (Amti) reported last week that China had deployed militia vessels to Zamora (Subi) Reef, about 24 kilometers southwest of Pag-asa Island, apparently to discourage the Philippines from constructing the beaching ramp.
Amti said the deployment was part of China’s “cabbage strategy,” in which it surrounds a contested area with multiple layers of maritime vessels to deny access to the rival nation.
The number of Chinese fishing vessels peaked to 95 in December, Amti said.
Madrigal said the AFP was monitoring the presence of Chinese vessels in the area but had not received reports that they had hampered Philippine naval patrols. —Jeannette I. Andrade