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Philippine defense chief has requested that the Chinese flotilla leave the reef.

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Philippine defense chief has requested that the Chinese flotilla leave the reef.
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Philippine defense chief has requested that the Chinese flotilla leave the reef.

Philippine defense chief has requested that the Chinese flotilla leave the reef.

 

On Sunday, the Philippines’ defense chief demanded that more than 200 Chinese vessels manned by militias leave a South China Sea reef claimed by Manila, calling their involvement a “provocative action of militarization.”

“We call on the Chinese to immediately halt this incursion and recall these boats that are infringing on our maritime rights and encroaching on our sovereign territory,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement, adding that the Philippines will defend its sovereign rights.

On March 7, a government watchdog monitoring the disputed area reported seeing about 220 Chinese vessels moored at Whitsun Reef, which Beijing also claims. It published images of the vessels side by side in one of the strategic waterway’s most fiercely contested areas.

Late Sunday, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin tweeted that the Philippines had lodged a diplomatic complaint against China’s presence in the region.

The reef, dubbed Julian Felipe by Manila, is a boomerang-shaped and shallow coral area located about 175 nautical miles (324 kilometers) west of Bataraza town in Palawan’s western province. It’s well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, where the nation “enjoys the exclusive right to exploit or preserve any wealth,” according to the government watchdog.

The large number of Chinese boats is “a source of concern due to the potential for overfishing and environmental damage, as well as threats to navigational safety,” it said, though it noted that the vessels were not fishing when they were spotted.

Chinese fishing fleets have long been accused of being used as maritime militias to help Beijing enforce its territorial claims, despite Beijing’s denials.

The military’s “utmost priority remains the protection of our people in the region, especially our fishermen, through increased maritime patrols,” according to Philippine military chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana.

Officials from the Chinese Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. For decades, China, the Philippines, and four other countries have been locked in a tense territorial dispute over the resource-rich and busy waterway.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who has cultivated friendly relations with Beijing since taking office in 2016, has been chastised by critics for failing to stand up to Beijing’s hostile actions and for failing to seek China’s immediate compliance with an international arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing’s historic claims to virtually the entire sea. China has declined to accept the 2016 verdict, which it has labeled a “sham,” and has continued to ignore it.

“Who can deter Xi when he says, ‘I will fish.’ ” Duterte said two years ago, referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping, as he defended his nonconfrontational approach.

“I guarantee you not one of the Chinese fishermen would come home alive if I send my marines to drive them away,” Duterte said at the time, adding that diplomatic talks with Beijing had allowed Filipinos to return to disputed fishing grounds where Chinese forces had previously driven them away.

As the Philippines faces an unprecedented increase in coronavirus infections, Duterte has pursued infrastructure funds, trade, and investments from China, which has also donated and promised to provide more COVID-19 vaccines.

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My self Eswar, I am Creative Head at RecentlyHeard. I Will cover informative content related to political and local news from the United Nations and Canada.

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