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Philippines sends more patrol ships amid rift with China

Liz Liz

March 26, 2021 | 13:50

More navy ships have been ordered to be deployed for sovereignty patrols in the South China Sea, where a Chinese flotilla has swarmed around a contested reef and refused to leave despite Manila's demands.

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Philippines deploys more patrol ships amid rift with China
The Philippines ordered the deployment of additional navy ships to beef up the country’s “maritime sovereignty patrols” in the disputed waters. Photo: Taiwan News

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.

More navy ships to beef up “maritime sovereignty patrols”

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has asked about 200 Chinese vessels he described as militia boats to immediately leave Whitsun Reef, a shallow coral region about 175 nautical miles (324 kilometers) west of Bataraza town in the western Philippine province of Palawan. China ignored the call, insisting it owns the offshore territory and that the vessels were sheltering from rough seas, according to AP News.

Military chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana ordered the deployment of additional navy ships to beef up the country’s “maritime sovereignty patrols” in the disputed waters, the military said Thursday.

It did not say how close the Philippine navy ships would maneuver from the Chinese vessels, whose presence Lorenzana has called an “incursion" and “provocative action of militarizing the area.”

“By the increased naval presence in the area, we seek to reassure our people of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ strong and unwavering commitment to protect and defend them from harassment and ensure that they can enjoy their rights over the country’s rich fishing ground,” military spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said in a statement.

The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest but China insisted it owns the reef, which it calls Niué Jiao, and said the Chinese vessels converged in the area to avoid rough waters. The US, however, said, “Chinese boats have been mooring in this area for many months in ever-increasing numbers, regardless of the weather.”

Beijing has denied the vessels were maritime militias. “Any speculation in such helps nothing but causes unnecessary irritation,” the Chinese Embassy said Monday.

The Philippine government says the reef is well within the country’s internationally recognized exclusive economic zone over which it “enjoys the exclusive right to exploit or conserve any resources.”

Philippine military officials discussed the impasse with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army on Wednesday and conveyed Lorenzana’s demand for the Chinese vessels to leave the reef, which Manila calls Julian Felipe, Arevalo said.

President Rodrigo Duterte asserted Manila’s position in a meeting with Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said, but reported no resolution.

The US backs the Philippines in standoff over South China Sea reef

Philippines deploys more patrol ships amid rift with China
Photo: Defence Aviation Post

The U.S. Embassy 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, reported by Business Standard.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Sunday demanded about 200 Chinese vessels he said were militia boats leave the Whitsun Reef, a shallow coral region about 175 nautical miles (324 kilometers) west of Bataraza town in the western Philippine province of Palawan.

Philippine officials said the reef, which they call Julian Felipe, is well within the country's internationally recognized exclusive economic zone, over which the Philippines enjoys the exclusive right to exploit or conserve any resources.

The Philippine coast guard spotted about 220 Chinese vessels moored at the reef, which Beijing and Vietnam also claim, on March 7.

On Monday, a surveillance aircraft spotted 183 Chinese vessels still at the reef, said Philippine military chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, who released aerial pictures of the Chinese vessels in one of the most hotly contested regions in the strategic waterway.

Meanwhile, Vietnam has also said the Chinese vessels at the reef, which Hanoi calls Da Ba Dau, had infringed on its sovereignty.

“Vietnam requests that China stop this violation and respect Vietnam’s sovereignty,” Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said.

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Liz