Philippines: Chinese vessels have not left area near Manila-occupied island

Jason Gutierrez
Philippines: Chinese vessels have not left area near Manila-occupied island A cluster of Chinese ships and boats can be seen on the left side of this satellite photo of waters around Pag-asa (Thitu) island in the South China Sea, March 5, 2023.
Planet Labs

Scores of Chinese boats have ignored repeated radio challenges to leave waters near a Manila-occupied island in the South China Sea after being spotted there in recent days, the Philippine Coast Guard said Tuesday.

The Chinese fleet, which includes a People’s Liberation Army Navy ship, a China Coast Guard ship with bow number 5203, and 42 maritime militia boats, have been repeatedly asked to move away from Pag-asa (Thitu) island since first being seen there on March 4, said the Filipino coast guard’s adviser for maritime security.

“The PLA navy vessel, the China Coast Guard vessel and the Chinese maritime militia are still currently there,” Commodore Jay Tarriela told a press briefing.

“Our coast guard station in Pag-asa is continuing to challenge them over the radio and are telling them they are within the Philippines’ 12-nautical mile territorial sea. But they have ignored the calls of our coast guard personnel.

Tarriela said the Chinese action was a clear violation of the Philippines’ sovereignty and inconsistent with the right of innocent passage. 

“In short, they do not respect the territorial integrity of this area,” he said.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond on Tuesday to a BenarNews request for comment. 

Pag-asa is the largest island in the Philippine-claimed Kalayaan Island Group, a chain in the contested Spratly Islands. There are an estimated 400 residents on Pag-asa, 70 of them children mostly of coast guard and navy personnel stationed there.

It lies just around 300 miles (483 kms) from Puerto Princesa in Palawan, a province in the western Philippines. In recent years, more and more Chinese vessels have frequented the waters around Pag-asa.

On Tuesday, Tarriela promised that the coast guard would “stay true” to its responsibility in carrying out patrols and challenging illegal Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines’ term for its area in the South China Sea.

“At least we are exposing their bullying activities and we let the public know about their bullying activities,” he said. “At the same time, through this exposure, we can get international support wherein these activities [by the Chinese] are condemned by the United States, Japan, Australia and other like-minded states.”

This image shows the past track of Chinese coast guard ship No. 5203 as it moved at different speeds in waters between Subi Reef and Pag-asa (Thitu) island in the South China Sea from Feb. 19 through March 7, 2023. [Marine Traffic]

In 2020, more than 100 Chinese vessels, which appeared to be fishing boats, were seen near the island. And last year, a civilian boat manned by Philippine Navy personnel sailed near a sandbar off Pag-Asa in a bid to retrieve debris from a Chinese rocket. A Chinese coast guard ship blocked their path and used a rubber boat to collect the debris.

The Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam each have territorial claims in the South China Sea. 

A 2016 ruling by a tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague affirmed Manila’s sovereign rights to a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and an extended continental shelf, and declared Beijing’s sweeping claim to virtually the entire sea invalid under international law.

Beijing continues to ignore the ruling, however, and has regularly been sending flotillas of supposed fishing vessels backed by its maritime militia in defiance of international calls to respect the ruling. 

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. recently summoned China’s envoy to Manila to protest their continued occupation of Philippine areas, although his action came shortly after a visit to Beijing where was promised a raft of investments and economic help.

He has not made any comment about this new report.


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