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Philippines sends fighter aircraft over Chinese vessels in Bien Dong Sea (South China Sea)

March 29, 2021 | 12:06

The Philippines military is sending light fighter aircraft to fly over hundreds of Chinese vessels in disputed waters in the Bien Dong Sea (South China Sea), its defence minister said, as he repeated his demand the flotilla be withdrawn immediately.

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Philippines sends fighter aircraft over Chinese vessels in South China Sea
The Chinese boats are moored at the Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea. Photo: AP

The Philippine military is sending light fighter aircraft to fly over hundreds of Chinese vessels in disputed waters in the Bien Dong Sea (internationally called South China Sea), its defence minister said, as he repeated his demand the flotilla be withdrawn immediately.

International concern is growing over what the Philippines has described as a “swarming and threatening presence” of more than 200 Chinese vessels that Manila believes were manned by maritime militia, said Scmp.

The boats were moored at the Whitsun Reef within Manila’s 321-kilometre exclusive economic zone.

The Philippine military aircraft were sent daily to monitor the situation, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement late on Saturday.

Previously, the Philippine military has ordered more navy ships to be deployed for sovereignty patrols in the South China Sea, where a Chinese flotilla has swarmed around a disputed reef and ignored Manila’s demand to leave the area.

Philippines sends fighter aircraft over Chinese vessels in South China Sea
FILE PHOTO: Some of the about 220 Chinese vessels reported by the Philippine Coast Guard, and believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, are pictured at Whitsun Reef, South China Sea, March 7, 2021. Philippine Coast Guard/National Task Force-West Philippine Sea/Handout via REUTERS

Lorenzana said the military will also beef up its naval presence in the South China Sea to conduct “sovereignty patrols” and protect Filipino fishermen.

“Our air and sea assets are ready to protect our sovereignty and sovereign rights,” Lorenzana said.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It has said the vessels at Whitsun Reef were fishing boats taking refuge from rough seas and that there were no militia aboard.

Philippines sends fighter aircraft over Chinese vessels in South China Sea
Bien Dong Sea (South China Sea) has being competed territorial claims. Reuters file

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reaffirmed to China’s ambassador, Huang Xilian, the Philippines had won a landmark arbitration case in 2016, which made clear its sovereign entitlements amid rival claims by China, his spokesman said last week, according to the Reuters.

The Philippines Coast Guard announced earlier that some 220 vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, were seen operating near a reef in the South China Sea on March 7. The vessels kept the light on overnight, but have not engaged in any fishing activities despite the convenient weather.

Philippine military chief Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana confirmed Monday that the ships are still in the area and the Philippines is making an accounting of the exact number of vessels.

The U.S. Embassy has said it shared the concerns of the Philippines and accused China of using "maritime militia to intimidate, provoke, and threaten other nations, which undermines peace and security in the region."

An international tribunal in 2016 invalidated China’s claim to 90 percent of the South China Sea, but Beijing does not recognize the ruling. China has in recent years built islands in the waters, putting air strips on some of them.

Chinese vessels operating near the Spratly Islands is a serious violation of Vietnam's sovereignty and must be ended, Vietnam has demanded.

"The activities of Chinese ships in the waters off Grierson Reef seriously violate Vietnam’s sovereignty and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)," Foreign Affairs Ministry spokewoman Le Thi Thu Hang said last Thursday.

"This goes against the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and complicates the situation in the sea. Vietnam demands that China ends its violations, respects Vietnam's sovereignty, comply with the DOC and not complicate the situation further," Hang said.

"It should be repeated that Vietnam has full legal basis and historical evidence to assert sovereignty over the Spratly Islands, in accordance with international law. As a coastal state and a member of the UNCLOS, Vietnam enjoys sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in accordance with the convention," she said at a press meet, answering questions about the situation of many Chinese ships anchored in the reef in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea.

The Grierson Reef belongs to Spratly Islands and is part of Sinh Ton Commune, Truong Sa District in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa.

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