Diplomatic protest filed after 220 Chinese militia boats spotted near Whitsun Reef
(Eagle News) — The Philippines’ top defense official called on China on Sunday, March 21, to “stop encroaching” into the country’s sovereign territory, and demanded that China recall more than 200 militia boats spotted near a disputed reef some 320 kilometers west of Palawan Island.
In what could be defense chief Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s toughest pronouncement on China, he said that China should “immediately recall” its militia boats in the area near the Whitsun Reef or the Julian Felipe Reef which is part of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
-Grave concern over China’s provocative action-
The defense chief said that China’s moves were clearly “provocative” and showed it was “militarizing the area.”
“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,” Lorenzana said in a statement.
“This is a clear provocative action of militarizing the area. These are territories well within Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf (CS) where Filipinos have the sole right to resources under international law and the 2016 arbitral ruling.nce of Chinese militia boats in the Julian Felipe Reef,” he stressed.
“We call on the Chinese to stop this incursion and immediately recall these boats violating our maritime rights and encroaching into our sovereign territory. We are committed to uphold our sovereign rights over the WPS,” Lorenzana said.
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
The defense chief said that they are already “coordinating with the Philippine Coast Guard, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea and the Department of Foreign Affairs for appropriate action in the context of protecting the welfare of our Filipino fishermen, our marine resources, and maintaining peace and stability in the West Philippine Sea.”
The DFA said that it has already filed a deplomatic protest against China.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr, said that he had already gotten in touch with Lorenzana, and had filed the diplomatic protest Sunday night.
“Diplomatic protest fired off tonight; can’t wait for first light,” he said in a tweet.
— Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) March 21, 2021
The Philippine coast guard detected the Chinese boats “in line formation” at the boomerang-shaped Whitsun Reef around 320 kilometres (175 nautical miles) west of Palawan Island on March 7.
The Chinese embassy in Manila has not yet issued any statement on the matter.
A government task force charged with monitoring the contested waters announced Saturday the detection of around 220 “Chinese Maritime Militia Vessels” earlier this month.
“Despite clear weather at the time, the Chinese vessels massed at the reef showed no actual fishing activities,” the agency said.
The United States has previously accused China of using maritime militia to “intimidate, coerce and threaten other nations” over its claims to almost the entire South China Sea.
The resource-rich waterway is also contested by several countries, including the Philippines.
China has ignored a 2016 international tribunal decision that declared its assertion as without basis.
Philippine-China relations have improved under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has tried to steer his country away from the ambit of the United States — its former colonial master — to pursue greater economic cooperation with its giant neighbour and American rival.
In August, Lorenzana accused China of illegally occupying Filipino maritime territory, saying the nine-dash line used by Beijing to justify its alleged historic rights to the key waterway was a fabrication.
His remarks at the time came amid a fresh row over the disputed Scarborough shoal, which China seized from the Philippines in 2012 following a tense standoff.
In 2019, the Philippines also complained after hundreds of Chinese ships were seen near Pag-asa island, also known as Thitu, which the country branded as “illegal”.
(with an Agence France-Presse report)