Philippine government officials released photos Saturday of what they said were 220 Chinese boats moored in boomerang shape. Rebel Whitsun, whom Manila calls Reef Julian Felipe, near the western Philippine province of Palawan in the South China Sea on March 7th.
“We urge the Chinese to stop this incursion and immediately recall these ships violating our maritime rights and violating our sovereign territory,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told the Philippine State News Agency (PNA) on Sunday.
Reef, which is part of the Spratly Islands archipelago, is claimed by both governments. The Philippines claims it falls within the country’s exclusive economic zone. A 2016 ruling by a United Nations court rejected China’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea, although Beijing has refused to recognize the ruling.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he had filed a protest with the Chinese government over the presence of Chinese ships, tweeting late Sunday, “Diplomatic protest ceased tonight; we can not wait for the first light.”
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday that fishing boats were engaged in routine operations in what China calls the Nansha Islands.
“For a long period of time, Chinese fishing boats have been fishing in adjacent waters. Some boats have been sheltered by the wind. This is very normal. We hope the parties concerned can look at this rationally,” said spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
Lorenzana called the developments a “clear provocative move to militarize the area” in a statement reported by the PNA.
Chinese fishing fleet
China has been accused of using its large fishing fleets to help assert Beijing’s 1.3 million square miles of territorial claims in the South China Sea, though China has denied the allegations as unfounded.
While Reef Whitsun still remains out of direct control of Beijing, China has unilaterally transformed other underwater rocks in the Spratly chain into man-made islands with substantial infrastructure and military fortifications, including missiles, runways and weapons systems.
And the Chinese fishing fleet has been seen putting pressure on other Philippine claims in the Spratlys.
Chinese warships head to the Sea of Japan
As Chinese ships were drawing attention to the South China Sea, the People’s Liberation Army Fleet was showing off some of its recently acquired muscles in the waters of the Sea of Japan.
“The entry into the Sea of Japan shows that Type 055 has acquired the ability to patrol in remote maritime regions and is an indicator of the PLA Navy’s progress,” Zhongping, a Chinese military expert, told the Global Times.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said craft reconnaissance confirmed that Chinese ships crossed the Tsushima Strait, saying it was the first time Japanese forces had discovered the Type 055 destroyer.
The Type 055 is seen as a key component of China’s modern fleet of speed as the PLA Navy pushes to project its impact farther from the country’s shores.
“This ship in particular has a sophisticated design, stealth features, radar and a large inventory of missiles. Larger and more powerful than most American, Japanese and South Korean destroyers,” said senior Rand Corp. analyst. . Timothy Heath in 2018.
Following those talks, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said the US and Japan “oppose any attempt to change the status quo in the area including the East China Sea and the South China Sea.”
Motegi also said the U.S. had reconfirmed its commitment to helping Japan protect Senkakus, a range of disputed islands in the East China Sea that China calls Diayous and claims as its own.
But in the Global Times report, Song, the military expert, said the deployment of Chinese warships in the Sea of Japan was long planned and routine.
“PLA training is not aimed at Japan or the US, but these countries are likely to perceive it that way because they see China as their imaginary enemy,” Song said in the report.
“The PLA must increase its combat capability in the far seas to maintain its sovereignty, security and development interests in an uncertain and volatile world, with external threats from a small US-led circle.” , Song told the Global Times.
CNN’s Jennifer Deaton in Atlanta, Chie Kobayashi in Tokyo, Yasmin Coles in Manila and the Beijing office contributed to this report
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