Philippines flagged an unprecedented show of maritime assertion by China after dozens of Chinese fishing vessels were seen being escorted by the Chinese Coast Guard and Navy near the Iroquois Reef and the Sabina Shoal in the West Philippine Sea that Manila claims as its own as part of its exclusive economic zone.
China refers to the West Philippine Sea as the South China Sea and the dispute has been internationalised by the latter nomenclature.
China-Philippines tensions: Latest escalation
The Filipino military’s Western Command (WESCOM) issued a statement earlier this week that said that the number of Chinese fishing vessels “swarming” the Iroquois Reef rose to 47 in June 2023.
“China must cease its swarming of vessels to respect our sovereign rights,” Ariel Coloma, spokesperson for the Western Command, said in an official statement.
The Philippine military said their flights had also recorded the presence of three China Coast Guard ships and two Chinese navy vessels “regularly loitering” at Sabina Shoal, which is inside the country’s special economic zone.
“These developments raise alarming concerns about China’s intentions and actions within these disputed waters,” WESCOM said.
Open Source Intelligence Monitor on social media said that the area is close to the oil and natural gas-rich Reed Tablemount.
Philippines’ rights over West Philippine Sea internationally recognised
The Philippines won a landmark arbitration case in 2016 that invalidated China’s expansive claims in the West Philippine Sea that Beijing continues to designate as the South China Sea.
According to trade figures published by Reuters, about $3 trillion worth of sea-borne goods pass through the disputed maritime region every year.
The ruling, which treaty ally the United States backs and China refuses to recognise, clarified Philippine sovereign rights in its 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to access offshore oil and gas fields, including the Reed Bank, where a natural gas exploration project operated by Philippine firm PXP Energy Corp has been stalled.
In recent years, satellite imagery has shown China’s increased efforts to reclaim land in the West Philippine Sea by physically increasing the size of islands or creating new artificial islands altogether.
Beijing has literally piled sand onto existing reefs, and constructed ports, military installations, and airstrips.
Source : MSN