|Philippine coast guard ship sailing past a Chinese coast guard ship near Scarborough shoal in the South China Sea in May 2019. (File photo: AFP/TED ALJIBE)|
The exercises near the Philippine-occupied Thitu Island and China-controlled Scarborough Shoal come amid heightened tensions over the resource-rich sea. The latest diplomatic wrangle between the two countries was triggered by the detection last month of hundreds of Chinese vessels in the Spratly Islands. Most of the boats have since dispersed around the contested archipelago, according to Bangkok Post.
China - which claims almost the entirety of the sea - has refused repeated demands by the Philippines to call back the ships, which Manila says are maritime militia vessels and Beijing says are fishing boats. In response, the Philippines has deployed more patrol vessels, including coast guard and navy ships, to intensify surveillance and prevent illegal fishing. The coast guard drills began last week, said Channel News Asia.
|In this undated handout photo received from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Sunday, coast guard personnel conduct maritime exercises near Thitu island, in the disputed South China sea. (Photo: AFP)|
According to VN Express, Vietnam has also voiced over the docking of China's ships. Early April, Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said the country was closely monitoring the situation as 200 Chinese vessels are anchored illegally at the Whitsun Reef, part of Vietnam's Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands. Vietnam requests that China stop such violations and respect Vietnam’s sovereignty, she had said.
The drills began as the Philippine armed forces held joint exercises with US soldiers that finished on Friday last week. Beijing has ignored a 2016 international tribunal decision that declared its historical claim over most of the Bien Dong Sea to be without basis.
Relations with Beijing have warmed under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who set aside the ruling in exchange for promises of trade and investment, but the Philippine foreign and defense secretaries have been engaged in a war of words with Beijing.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has filed daily protests over the Chinese vessels and summoned Beijing’s envoy to express its “utmost displeasure” over the issue.
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