|Philippine Coast Guard personnel survey several ships believed to be Chinese militia vessels in Sabina Shoal in the South China Sea on April 27, 2021. Photo Philippine Coast Guard|
The Philippines has demanded that China withdraw its ships and fishing vessels from the vicinity of a Philippine-occupied island in the South China Sea, where the Chinese military has asserted its sovereignty and vowed to unswervingly safeguard the disputed territory.
The exchange of protests by the Asian neighbors over the island, internationally called Thitu, is the latest flareup in a long simmering territorial feud in the strategic waterway that has escalated in the last two months, AP reported.
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said Saturday it has filed a diplomatic protest against the incessant deployment, prolonged presence and illegal activities of Chinese maritime assets and fishing vessels in the vicinity of the Pag-asa islands. It used the Philippine name for Thitu, which China calls Zhongye Dao.
The department demanded that China withdraw its vessels from near the island, which it said is an integral part of the Philippines over which it has sovereignty and jurisdiction.
According to Reuters, the Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside business hours.
Tensions between Manila and Beijing have escalated over the months-long presence of hundreds of Chinese boats in the Philippines' 200-mile exclusive economic zone. The Philippines says it believes the vessels were manned by militia, while Beijing has said they were fishing boats sheltering from bad weather.
"The Pag-asa Islands is an integral part of the Philippines over which it has sovereignty and jurisdiction," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Regarding information that China increased the number of ships operating in the Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago to nearly 300 ships, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said on May 13 that Vietnamese competent agencies always keep a close watch on developments in the Bien Dong Sea and protect the exercise of national sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction over Vietnam's territorial waters in accordance with international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
"Vietnam has sufficient historical evidence and legal grounds affirming its sovereignty over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes as well as legal rights to its waters as defined in line with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)," she reiterated.
During a phone talk with Chinese President Xi Jinping on May 24, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc said the two sides needed to make efforts to maintain a peaceful and stable environment, and jointly handle issues at the sea according to joint high-level perception, in accordance with international law and the 1982 UNCLOS.
Thitu Island is known as Pag-asa in the Philippines. It is simultaneously claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, and China.
|Pag-asa Island, otherwise known as Thitu Island, is situated in the Vietnsm's Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea. Photo AFP|
China has built a mini-city with runways, hangars and surface-to-air-missiles in the Subi Reef about 25 km (15 miles) from Thitu.
The Philippines has issued dozens of diplomatic protests to China since then over the disputes. This was at least the 84th diplomatic protest the Philippines has filed against China since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016.
An international tribunal that year invalidated China's expansive claim in the South China Sea, where about $3 trillion worth of ship-borne trade passes annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims to various islands and features in the area.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. apologized early this month after tweeting an obscene phrase demanding China get out of Philippine-claimed territory in the South China Sea in an outburst that annoyed Duterte.
“Just because we have a conflict with China does not mean to say that we have to be rude and disrespectful,” Duterte said. “We have many things to thank China for the help in the past and its assistance now.”
Duterte shelved the favourable ruling and pursued a rapprochement with Beijing in exchange for pledges of billions of dollars of loans, aid and investment, much of which are pending./.
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