AFP: Dozens of Chinese vessels spotted near Pag-asa Island
MANILA, Philippines — Chinese fishing vessels continue to stay near Pag-asa (Thitu) Island in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Western Command chief Vice Adm. Rene Medina said Wednesday there were 38 stationary Chinese boats surrounding the sandbars of Pag-asa as of Tuesday night.
There are three sandbars between Pag-asa and the Philippine-claimed but China-controlled Zamora (Subi) Reef, which the Chinese had developed into a massive military outpost.
Pag-asa is the only outpost occupied by the Philippines in the Spratly Islands with a civilian community.
There were no Chinese boats spotted near Kota and Panata islands, Medina told Inquirer.net, referring to two other Philippine-occupied outposts in the West Philippine Sea.
He said they continue to keep track of the number of sightings of foreign vessels within its jurisdiction and forward it to the higher-ups for appropriate diplomatic action.
The presence of these Chinese boats near Pag-asa Island has notably increased since 2018 after the Philippines began the construction of a beaching ramp and sheltered port on the island.
The Philippine government in 2019 had filed several diplomatic protests on the sustained presence of these Chinese vessels, believed to be part of a maritime militia.
In a report to Congress last year, the Department of National Defense (DND) said China is likely to continue using its maritime militia to gain an advantage in the West Philippine Sea without provoking a conventional military response.
“There is high possibility that Beijing will continue the employment of these vessels, which could be used for asymmetric warfare of sea control and sea denial, such as swarming tactic and ramming of other claimants’ vessels in the area, enabling it to make advancements in the maritime region without causing tension in the area,” DND said.
China is using its fishing vessels to discreetly conduct surveillance, search and rescue operations, and provide assistance to law enforcement agencies, it added.
Despite losing to a Philippine challenge in the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in July 2016, China insists it owns almost all of the South China Sea, including waters close to the shores of other claimants in the strategic waterway.
President Rodrigo Duterte played down the ruling in exchange for economic investments from China.
Besides the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan also claim parts of the South China Sea.
Asean neighbors stand up to China
Elsewhere in the region, Southeast Asian neighbors have been protesting China’s excessive maritime claims.
Indonesia recently filed a strong diplomatic protest and stepped up air and naval patrols because of the rising number of Chinese vessels in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
In December, Malaysia challenged China’s claims in the South China Sea when it made a new submission to the United Nations seeking clarity on the limits of its continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical mile EEZ in the northern part of the South China Sea.
Vietnam and China were embroiled in months-long standoff last year after Beijing sent an oil survey ship to conduct seismic surveys in waters off Vietnam.
Edited by KGA
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