Philippines Summons Beiijing's Envoy Over 'Illegal Lingering' by Chinese Ships in EEZ

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Philippines Summons Beiijing's Envoy Over 'Illegal Lingering' by Chinese Ships in EEZ A People's Liberation Army Navy Corvette class warship is seen near Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea, April 11, 2021.
Courtesy of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea

Manila’s foreign office said Tuesday it had summoned Beijing’s ambassador for the first time to discuss the “illegal lingering presence” of Chinese ships moored in its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, as the Philippines stepped up its protest on the issue.

Meanwhile late Tuesday, a government task force said that Philippine military patrols over the weekend had spotted hundreds of Chinese Maritime Military ships also “lingering” in different Philippine-claimed areas of the disputed waterway.

Undersecretary Elizabeth Buensuceso said she met Chinese Ambassador Huang Xi Lian at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday and repeated Manila’s demand that Beijing withdraw the ships.

“The DFA expressed displeasure over the illegal lingering presence of Chinese in Julian Felipe Reef,” the foreign department said, using the Filipino name for Whitsun Reef. “The continuing presence of Chinese vessels around the reef is a source of regional tension.”

China, for its part, has said that these are Chinese fishing vessels operating in waters of the Spratlys Islands, over which Beijing claims to have maritime rights. Beijing had earlier said that the ships were sheltering from bad weather.

Earlier this month, the foreign affairs office blasted the Chinese Embassy for issuing “blatant falsehoods such as claims of adverse weather conditions when there were none and the supposed non-existence of maritime militia vessels in the area.”

The Chinese Embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

On Tuesday, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. reiterated his call for China to pull out its boats.

“Come, come, time to go,” Locsin said in a tweet. “As I said, while it may well be traditional fishing grounds, tradition yields to law and the law on the matter is UNCLOS and the arbitral award and the common rules of statutory construction,” he said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. 

During their meeting, Buensuceso said she reminded Ambassador Huang of a Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in 2016 that said Beijing had no basis to claim historic rights in the South China Sea. China has refused to honor that ruling. 

Locsin tweeted that only nine ships remained at Whitsun Reef, which lies within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

In a statement issued late in the evening, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said government patrols had spotted an estimated 240 Chinese ships crewed by militia in Philippine waters earlier this week. The number is higher than the 220 reported in March.

According to the task force, Sunday patrols had observed 136 ships at Burgos Reef, nine at Julian Felipe Reef (the Philippine name for Whitsun Reef), 65 at Johnson South Reef, six at Mischief Reef, three at Subi Reef, four at Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, one at West York Island, five at Kota Island and 11 at the Second Thomas Shoal.

The patrols also spotted People’s Liberation Army Navy ships, including two Houbei-class missile warships, at Panganiban Reef, one Corvette-class warship at Fiery Cross Reef, and one navy tugboat at Zamora Reef.

The Philippines has named its territory in the South China Sea the West Philippine Sea.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea as its own, but five other Asian governments – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam – have territorial claims. While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of the sea overlapping Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.

Carriers in waterway

Meanwhile in recent days, both the United States and China have sent aircraft carriers into the South China Sea.

The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group sailed into the area earlier this month and then conducted joint maneuvers with the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF). The strike group also joined with the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group for expeditionary strike-force operations on April 9, the U.S. Navy said.

The Liaoning, a Chinese aircraft carrier, entered the South China Sea on April 10, according to the Global Times, a Chinese state-run tabloid.

While the Philippines has been lodging daily diplomatic protests against Beijing for intruding in its waters, the decision to summon the Chinese envoy was a rare occurrence under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. Monday’s meeting at the Philippine foreign office was the first time for Huang, who assumed the post in December 2019.

In a statement relayed through his spokesman earlier this month, Duterte said he preferred to resolve peacefully the issue of the Chinese militia ships moored in EEZ waters. The president made no mention of the sea dispute during a speech late Monday, his first major public appearance in two weeks.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.


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