Philippines Raises Alarm as Over 135 Chinese Vessels “Swarm” Reef Off Its Coast.
Manila, Philippines: The Philippines expressed deep concern on Sunday over the increasing presence of more than 135 Chinese vessels “swarming” a reef off its coast, describing the situation as “alarming.”
The Chinese boats were found dispersed within the boomerang-shaped Whitsun Reef, known as Julian Felipe Reef in the Philippines, located approximately 320 kilometers (200 miles) west of Palawan Island.
The Philippine Coast Guard initially reported 111 “Chinese maritime militia vessels” (CMM) on November 13, but upon deploying two patrol boats to the area on Saturday, the number had risen to “more than 135.”
Manila’s coast guard declared the Chinese vessels’ presence as “alarming” and “illegal,” emphasizing that the boats did not respond to radio challenges.
Whitsun Reef is situated more than 1,000 kilometers from the nearest major Chinese landmass of Hainan Island.
China claims a significant portion of the South China Sea, including areas close to its neighbors’ shores, flouting an international tribunal’s ruling that dismissed the legal basis of its assertion.
The Coast Guard released images depicting Chinese vessels lined up in formation while others were scattered in the waters.
In 2021 over 200 Chinese vessels aggregated at the same reef sparking a diplomatic dispute between Manila and Beijing. China insisted the vessels were fishing boats seeking shelter from adverse weather and had the right to be there, while the Philippines argued their presence in its exclusive economic zone was unlawful.
In response to the escalating situation, the Philippines announced plans to establish a coast guard station on Thitu Island, its largest holding in the South China Sea. Equipped with advanced systems such as radar, satellite communication, coastal cameras, and vessel traffic management, the station aims to enhance monitoring capabilities.
National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano noted that the station has been constructed and is expected to be operational in early 2024.
Source | Agence France-Presse (AFP)