The Philippines yesterday warned Beijing it would face a barrage of diplomatic protests if Chinese vessels believed to be part of a “maritime militia” do not leave disputed South China Sea areas, escalating the spat between the two nations.
“For every day of delay, the Republic of the Philippines will lodge a diplomatic protest,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
It also repeated its call for the Chinese vessels to immediately withdraw from Whitsun Reef, which it maintained is part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Photo: AFP / Maxar Technologies
The latest statement came after China on Saturday said the waters had been “a traditional fishing ground for Chinese fishermen for many years” and it was “completely normal” for the vessels to “take shelter near the reef during rough sea conditions.”
China pledged to safeguard peace and said it hoped Philippine officials would “avoid any unprofessional remarks which may further fan irrational emotions.”
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the latest Philippine statement.
The presence of Chinese vessels near the reef shows Beijing’s intent to occupy more disputed areas, Philippine Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement on Sunday.
China has “done this before” in other contested areas, such as the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島), and is “brazenly violating Philippine sovereignty,” Lorenzana said.
The embassy’s statement “contained blatant falsehoods,” the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said, citing its 2016 international arbitration victory against Beijing.
The agency also reminded Chinese embassy officials that they are guests who must respect Philippine officials.
The remarks from the departments of defense and foreign affairs signal a tougher stance from the Philippine government, which had initially issued a formal diplomatic protest to China saying the ships raised concerns on overfishing and safety of navigation.
In a separate statement on Saturday, Lorenzana also rebutted China’s earlier response that those vessels were sheltering from the wind, saying the weather in the area has been good.
Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin separately said on Sunday that he is “considering a demarche” following the Chinese embassy’s claim that Whitsun Reef is part of China’s territory.
He also wrote on Twitter that “swarming accomplishes nothing.”
The Philippines, under President Rodrigo Duterte, has in the past few years been building friendly ties with China while keeping its alliance with the US.
US President Joe Biden’s administration late last month expressed concern over the presence of Chinese fishing vessels near the disputed reef, saying Beijing uses “maritime militia to intimidate, provoke and threaten other nations.”
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