AFP spots 124 China vessels around WPS ahead of ‘Balikatan’

AFP spots 124 China vessels around WPS ahead of ‘Balikatan’

By: - Reporter / @NCorralesINQ
/ 05:40 AM April 24, 2024

AFP spots 124 China vessels around WPS ahead of ‘Balikatan’

‘COMMITMENT TO THE ALLIANCE’ Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. and US Embassy Charge d’Affaires Robert Ewing look on as “Balikatan” exercise director for the Philippines Maj. Gen. Marvin Licudine and his US counterpart, Lt. Gen. William Jurney, unfurl the flag for the joint drills at the opening ceremony on Monday at Camp Aguinaldo. LYN RILLON

MANILA, Philippines — A total of 124 Chinese vessels, including three warships, appeared in various parts of the West Philippine Sea (WPS) in what a Philippine Navy official called an “out of the normal” deployment ahead of the annual “Balikatan” exercises which began on Monday.

According to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the three warships of the People’s Liberation Army Navy were seen on Monday in the vicinity of Pag-asa Island, about 500 km west of Palawan, and Lawak and Patag Islands, which are about 300 kilometers west of the province.


The other Chinese ships were spotted by the Philippine Navy from April 16 to 22.


READ: ‘Most expansive balikatan yet’ kicks off today

Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad, the Philippine Navy’s spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, said the 124 vessels seen during that period were an “upsurge,” compared with the 79 Chinese vessels seen in the period of April 9 to 15.

“This particular increase is not normal,” Trinidad said in a press briefing on Friday.

“This coincides with Balikatan. This upsurge is out of the normal,” he emphasized.

‘Behave properly’

During that week ahead of the Philippines’ annual exercise with US troops, one China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel and 44 Chinese maritime militia ships were spotted near Pag-asa, while seven other militia ships were observed at Parola (Northeast Cay) and Panata (Lankiam Cay) Islands.

All these islands form part of the municipality of Kalayaan under the jurisdiction of Palawan.


Seven CCG vessels and 31 militia ships were also seen in the area of Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal), about 600 km northwest of Palawan, while at Ayungin (Second Thomas ) Shoal, 315 km west of the province, three CCG vessels and 28 militia ships were spotted by the Philippine Navy.

Trinidad noted a “surge” in militia vessels “from the previous two weeks—69, 50, to 110.”

“So there is a surge in the presence of maritime militia, specifically in Bajo de Masinloc and Pag-asa,” he said.

“I don’t expect them to do anything illegal because of the presence of foreign warships,” Trinidad said. “I expect them to behave properly this time.”

But should Chinese vessels interfere in the joint exercise, he said “there are appropriate measures in place.” He did not elaborate.

‘Clumsy performance’

The AFP on Sunday said this year’s Balikatan is “the most expansive yet” held by Philippine and US troops.

The current joint drills are also notable for the first-time participation of the French Navy, while 13 other countries are also involved as observers.

In the same press briefing, Lt. Col. Brian Block, a spokesperson for the US Marine Corps, said the joint exercises this year are “a tangible commitment to the alliance and to regional security.”

A key feature of the joint drills is the sinking of a mock enemy ship, the decommissioned BRP Lake Caliraya, scheduled on May 8 off the coast of Laoag City, Ilocos Norte.

According to Beijing’s state-run tabloid Global Times, the ship was “originally manufactured in China” and had been the only “Chinese-made naval asset” in the Philippines.

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The Global Times also criticized the mock sinking, which has yet to happen, as “a clumsy political performance.”

TAGS: Balikatan, Lawak Island, Pagasa Island, Patag Island, Philippine Navy, PLA Navy

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