(TibetanReview.net, Mar24’21) – Expansionist China has launched a flotilla of 220 presumably civilian boats to intrude into the maritime sovereign territory of the Philippines, prompting the latter to lodge a protest and demand for withdrawal on Mar 20.
Philippine government officials on Mar 20 released pictures of 220 Chinese vessels moored at the boomerang-shaped Whitsun Reef, which Manila calls the Julian Felipe Reef, close to the western Philippine province of Palawan in the South China Sea on Mar 7, reported edition.cnn.com Mar 22.
“We call on the Chinese to stop this incursion and immediately recall these boats violating our maritime rights and encroaching into our sovereign territory,” state-run Philippine News Agency (PNA) has quoted Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana as saying Mar 21.
The reef, which is part of the Spratly Islands archipelago, is claimed by both countries. The Philippines maintains that it falls inside its exclusive economic zone.
WE CALL ON THE CHINESE TO STOP THIS INCURSION AND IMMEDIATELY RECALL THESE BOATS VIOLATING OUR MARITIME RIGHTS AND ENCROACHING INTO OUR SOVEREIGN TERRITORY
On a suit by the Philippines government at that time, a 2016 ruling by a United Nations tribunal dismissed China’s claim to virtually all of the South China Sea. But Beijing refused to recognize the decision and the incoming and current Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte refused to pursue it in order not to offend China.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Mar 22 the fishing boats were engaged in routine operations in what China calls the Nansha Islands, said the edition.cnn.com report.
“For a long period of time, Chinese fishing boats have been fishing in adjacent waters. Some ships have been sheltering from the wind. It is very normal. We hope relevant sides could look at this rationally,” spokesperson Hua Chunying has said.
However, in a statement reported by the PNA, Lorenzana has called developments a “clear provocative action of militarizing the area”.
China has been accused of using its vast fishing fleets to help assert Beijing’s territorial claims throughout the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea, though China has dismissed the accusations as groundless.
In a 2019 report on the fleet, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said “a significant number of fishing vessels in the area forgo fishing full-time to serve as a direct arm of the state,” and that fishing boats “stand at least as much chance of triggering a violent clash as do the region’s armed forces,” noted the edition.cnn.com report.