LOOK: Chinese vessels spotted near PH-occupied Kota Island
MANILA, Philippines — Apart from Pag-asa Island (Thitu), the largest island occupied by the Philippines in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), local authorities have also monitored a number of Chinese vessels hanging around Kota Island (Loaita) and Panata Island (Lankiam Cay).
A photo obtained by INQUIRER.net showed a close-up look on some of the Chinese fishing vessels, suspected as maritime militia, near the Philippine-occupied Kota Island last March 28.
At that time the photo was taken, the source said there were about 15 Chinese fishing vessels loitering approximately 1 nautical mile from Kota Island.
A security briefing of the Western Command in late March confirmed the presence of suspected Chinese maritime militia, not just near Pag-asa but also close to Kota and Panata islands. According to analysts, such type of vessel would only seem like fishing boats but their mere presence in the area is actually meant to intimidate other claimants.
Maritime expert Prof. Jay Batongbacal said this should be a concern because “they didn’t use to stay there.” Chinese vessels deployed near Panata and Kota islands are probably keeping an eye on the activities between the two, he added.
“The Chinese vessels are deployed directly between Panata and Kota, probably guarding the activities between the two, and anyone going to/from the other would have to pass by the Chinese vessels. If for any reason the Panata outpost is unmanned, that would probably be an opportunity for another country to slip in and take it over,” he said.
The Philippine government recently filed a diplomatic protest over the presence of more than 200 Chinese fishing vessels near Pag-asa Island.
Batongbacal said the vessels are not just a threat to the Philippines’ sea routes, but could also put air access to Pag-asa Island at risk.
“Those fishing vessels are also directly along the flight path of any aircraft coming into/out of Pag-asa using the runway; anyone coming into/out of Pag-asa by air could be under threat from these fishing vessels considering today’s portable weaponry,” he noted.
The Philippines, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei have conflicting claims over the South China Sea – one of the world’s busiest and strategic waterways.
The UN-backed international arbitral tribunal ruled in July 2016 to invalidate China’s “nine-dash line”, which claims nearly all of South China Sea. China refused to acknowledge that historic ruling and instead continued to build islands on shoals, complete with airstrips and missile defense systems. /kga
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.