US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Philippine National Security Advisor Hermogenes Esperon “agreed that the United States and the Philippines will continue to coordinate closely to respond to challenges in the South China Sea,” according to a statement from the White House.
Sullivan stressed that the United States stands with our Filipino allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order, and reaffirmed the applicability of the United States-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty in the Sea of Southern China, ”the statement attributed to the National Security Council said. Spokesperson Emily Horne.
The talks follow reports on Wednesday that a fleet of Chinese “maritime militia” ships, which was the subject of a diplomatic row with Beijing last week, is now dispersed over an even wider area of China. Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
In a statement, Manila said it “reiterates its assertion of Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction” over the islands and the seaway surrounding them, and “expresses deep concern over the presence illegal continuing (swarming) ”of ships,“ which did not withdraw and remained ”in the area.
“The Philippines calls on China to immediately withdraw these flag vessels.”
The statement added that the ships “accumulate and mass” in the area “are dangerous for navigation and the safety of life at sea”.
Last week, it was revealed that up to 200 ships, believed to belong to the Chinese militia, were moored at Whitsun Reef, about 320 kilometers (175 nautical miles) west of Palawan Island, and in the Philippine EEZ as defined by the International Court of Arbitration.
More vessels spotted
Manila had previously ordered Beijing to withdraw the ships, calling their presence in the area, also known as the Western Philippine Sea, to an incursion into its sovereign territory.
China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, said the vessels were fishing vessels sheltered from the elements.
Manila insists they belong to the Beijing Maritime Militia, which is frequently accused of carrying out covert military operations in the region.
Other Philippine air and sea patrols this week recorded that 44 of the Chinese-flagged boats remained on the boomerang-shaped reef, a military task force tasked with monitoring the disputed waters said.
About 210 ships were now “swarming” other reefs and islands in the region, he said.
The Philippine military said it could not confirm whether 92 ships spotted at Chigua Reef and 84 at Gaven Reef were part of the original flotilla.
Beijing often invokes its so-called “nine-dash line” to justify its claims over most of the South China Sea and has ignored a 2016 Hague International Tribunal ruling that ruled that claim had no effect. foundation.
In recent years, China has transformed the reefs of the Spratly Archipelago into man-made islands, installing naval and air facilities and equipment.
One of them is Mischief Reef – which the Philippines also claims – where the task force said four Chinese Navy ships were spotted on patrols.
In a social media post on Thursday, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin also reaffirmed that all features of the Philippine EEZ are “ours”, even those with Chinese structures. “The durability and the vintage of the structures do not matter,” he added.
Locsin is due in Beijing this week for a scheduled meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
The Philippine military said on Wednesday that its plane also received a radio challenge from the Chinese military during a surveillance mission.
Filipino media on board the flight over Whitsun Reef reported that the plane had been told by the Chinese that it was “approaching a Chinese reef” and that it had to leave in order to “avoid anything. movement likely to cause misunderstanding ”.
The Philippine Army responded by saying it was following its flight path as planned as it was patrolling the “Philippine EEZ”.
Several countries, including the United States, have expressed concern over the escalation of tensions in the region. The US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty obliges both parties to support each other in the event of incursion by outside parties.
Canada, Australia, Japan and others have also expressed concern over China’s intentions.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, China and Vietnam have competing land claims in the South China Sea, a key global trade route that is also rich in natural resources.