The Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has demanded a complete withdrawal of over 200 Chinese vessels from a South China Sea reef which is claimed by the Philippines. The Philippines Defense Secretary claims that the vessels were manned by militias and accuses China of a “ clear provocative action of militarizing the area.”
“We call on the Chinese to stop this incursion and immediately recall these boats violating our maritime rights and encroaching into our sovereign territory,” said Defense Secretary Lorenzana in a statement, making no assertions as to whether the Philippines will uphold its territorial sovereignty. According to a Philippine government watchdog, about 220 Chinese vessels are moored at Whitsun Reef, a reef that China also claims. Pictures of these Chinese vessels on Whitsun Bay were released by the watchdog.
We view with grave concern the presence of 220 Chinese militia boats in the Julian Felipe Reef (internationally known as Whitsun Reef, located within Union Reefs) in the West Philippine Sea. For more: https://t.co/swxfNO1Zr8 pic.twitter.com/Wfbqwf7WSN— Delfin Lorenzana (@del_lorenzana) March 21, 2021
Lorenzana has added that the presence of 220 Chinese vessels in The Philippines’ EEZ is a matter of grave concern. He has added that China should immediately recall those vessels as they violating their territory.
The Philippines has filed an official diplomatic protest over the Chinese presence on the disputed reef, according to Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin. The location of the disputed reef, which is called Julian Felipe by the Philippines is about 324 kilometres west off the coast of the western Philippine province called Palawan. According to the Philippine government watchdog, the reef is within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone and the Philippines “enjoys the exclusive right to exploit or conserve any resources.”
The watchdog goes on further saying that the increased number of Chinese vessels are “a concern due to the possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to the safety of navigation.” China is yet to issue a comment on this dispute.
Critics of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte have long accused of being too close to China, citing his refusal to demand compliance from China over an international arbitration which invalidated China’s claims over virtually the entire South China Sea. “When Xi says ‘I will fish,’ who can prevent him?” Duterte was quoted two years ago, explaining his approach to China. Duterte has also credited diplomatic talks with China for allowing the return of Philippine fisherman to fishing grounds from where the Chinese drove them away.
Philippines has grown closer to China especially due to the Coronavirus pandemic, with the Philippines seeking infrastructure funds, trade and investments and COVID-19 vaccinations from China.