Filipino defense chief asks large Chinese flotilla to leave reef

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Filipino defense chief asks large Chinese flotilla to leave reef


MANILA, PHILIPPINES – The Philippine defense chief on Sunday demanded that more than 200 Chinese ships he said were equipped by militias leave a South China Sea reef claimed by Manila, saying their presence was “action provocative of militarization of the area ”.
“We call on the Chinese to end this incursion and immediately recall these ships violating our maritime rights and encroaching on our sovereign territory,” Lorenzana said in a statement, adding without specifying that the Philippines would respect their sovereign rights.

A government watchdog overseeing the disputed region said around 220 Chinese ships were seen docked at Whitsun Reef, which Beijing also claims on March 7. He posted photos of the ships side by side in one of the most controversial areas of the Strategic Waterway.

The reef, which Manila calls Julian Felipe, is a shallow, boomerang-shaped coral region located about 175 nautical miles (324 kilometers) west of the city of Bataraza, in the western province of Palawan. from the Philippines. It is indeed in the country’s exclusive economic zone, over which the Philippines “enjoys the exclusive right to exploit or conserve all resources,” the government watchdog said.

The large number of Chinese ships is “a concern because of possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to the safety of navigation,” he added, while adding that the ships do not were not fishing when seen.

Chinese fishing fleets have long been suspected of being used as maritime militias to help assert Beijing’s territorial claims, though China has played down those claims.

Philippine Military Chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said that “the top priority of the military remains the protection of our citizens in the region, especially our fishermen, through increased maritime patrols.”

When asked if the Philippines would file a protest, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. tweeted, “only if the generals tell me.”

Chinese Embassy officials did not immediately comment. China, the Philippines and four other governments are locked in a tense territorial stalemate on the decades-long, resource-rich and heavily trafficked waterway.

Critics have repeatedly called on President Rodrigo Duterte, who has enjoyed friendly relations with Beijing since taking office in 2016, for failing to resist China’s aggressive behavior and for deciding not to immediately demand compliance by the China from an international arbitration decision that virtually invalidates Beijing’s historic claims. the whole sea. China has refused to recognize the 2016 decision, which it called a “sham,” and continues to challenge it.

“When Xi says ‘I’m going fishing,’ who can stop him? Duterte said two years ago defending his non-confrontational approach, referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“If I send my marines to chase the Chinese fishermen, I guarantee you that none of them will return home alive,” Duterte said at the time, adding that diplomatic negotiations with Beijing allowed Filipinos to return to areas. disputed fishing grounds where Chinese forces had previously driven them out.

Duterte sought infrastructure, trade and investment funds from China, which has also donated and pledged to provide more COVID-19 vaccines as the Philippines faces an alarming spike in infections coronavirus.

“We cannot trade our exclusive economic zone even for the Chinese vaccine,” said Renato Reyes of the left-wing political alliance Bayan. “We must protest against the latest incursions. ”

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