Mocking PH protests, China keeps 287 vessels in West Philippine Sea
MANILA, Philippine—China vessels refused to leave the West Philippine Sea, mocking a series of diplomatic protests and demands made by the Philippine government.
A maritime patrol last May 9, spotted at least 287 China vessels remaining in the West Philippine Sea, though scattered in various features of the municipality of Kalayaan, according to the National Task Force West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) on Wednesday (May 12).
Two Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels and two Houbei-class warships were spotted on Chinese-occupied Panganiban (Mischief) Reef; one CMM at Lawak (Nanshan Island); 11 CMM 29 nautical miles southwest of Recto (Reed) Bank; and one CMM near Ayungin Shoal. A China Coast Guard was also seen at the shoal last May 7.
Fourteen CMM vessels and one CCG ship were seen near Pag-asa (Thitu) Island; and 16 CMM vessels were spotted at Zamora (Subi) Reef. On May 6, the patrol sighted 24 CMM vessels and one CCG anchored at Pag-asa Cays showing no visible activity.
The Philippine patrol also saw two CMM vessels at Panata Island; one Vietnamese fishing vessel at Kota (Loaita) Island; 64 CMM in Burgos (Gaven) Reef); two Vietnamese fisheries surveillance ships at Paredes (Discovery Great) Reef. A Chinese rescue service ship, three People’s Liberation Army Navy vessels and 55 CMM vessels were spotted at Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef.
There were 34 CMM spotted at Julian Felipe Reef; two Vietnamese logistics/ supply ships and one VN Coast Guard vessel at Sin Cowe East (Grierson) Reef) and 77 CMM in Chigua Reef.
The task force reiterated that the Julian Felipe Reef is part of Philippine territory, which is contrary to the claims of presidential spokesperson Harry Roque that it is outside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Roque claimed that the presence of over 200 Chinese ships swarming the reef became an issue blown out of proportion by critics of President Duterte.
“The JFR is a low tide elevation located 175 nautical miles from Bataraza, Palawan and within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone,” the NTF WPS said.
“It is part of Philippine territory inasmuch as it is located within the overlapping 12nm territorial seas of McKennan (Chigua) Reef and of another possible high-tide feature, Grierson (Sin Cowe East) Reef, also our territories under the Municipality of Kalayaan,” the task force added.
Despite China’s unilateral fishing ban in waters north of 12 degrees latitude in the South China Sea, the Area Task Force North reported an average of four CCG vessels at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal from May 3 to 10. There were also two CMM seen harvesting shells inside the shoal’s lagoon.
An average of 10 Filipino fishing boats were seen fishing inside the lagoon from May 7 to 9.
On May 4, a CCG ship shadowed Philippine Coast Guard BRP Sindangan and BFAR MCS 3005 while approaching Panatag Shoal.
“The incident, along with the continued illegal incursions of foreign vessels sighted near Philippine-held islands have been submitted to the relevant agencies for the possible diplomatic actions,” the task force said.
Chinese vessels also returned to Sabina Shoal after they were earlier dispersed during patrols of the Philippine Coast Guard.
Two ships from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources challenged the 3 CMM and escorted them out of the shoal last May 7 and 8.
The task force said it remains guided by national policy and interest in asserting the country’s territorial and sovereign rights as upheld by the 2016 arbitral ruling in The Hague.
“The articulation of President Rodrigo Duterte at the 75th UN General Assembly emphasizing that the ruling is now part of international law and beyond compromise remains the supreme expression of foreign policy by this government,” it said.
Duterte, however, recently belittled the ruling as a piece of paper meant to be thrown in the trash bin.
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