Manila airs concern about Chinese boats ‘swarming’ in EEZ waters

BenarNews staff
2022.12.14
Manila
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Manila airs concern about Chinese boats ‘swarming’ in EEZ waters United States Vice President Kamala Harris (left) visits a fishing community in Tagburos village on Palawan island, on the frontline of the Philippines’ territorial dispute with Beijing over the South China Sea, Nov. 22, 2022.
[Jason Gutierrez/BenarNews]

The Philippines expressed “great concern” Wednesday about Chinese boats seen “swarming” in South China Sea waters within its exclusive economic zone.

About 20 Chinese fishing boats backed by the China Coast Guard were monitored last week in Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal, BenarNews has learned. The boats were spotted in the area within Manila’s 200-mile EEZ, a military source said.

The Philippine Department of National Defense (DND) said security forces “continue to conduct routine maritime and aerial patrols” in the West Philippine Sea, Manila’s name for its South China Sea territories.

“The DND views with great concern the reported swarming of Chinese vessels in Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in the WPS,” Senior Undersecretary Jose Faustino Jr., the officer-in-charge of the Defense Department, said in a statement. 

“The President’s directive to the Department is clear – we will not give up a single square inch of Philippine territory,” he said. “[I]nformation gathered in these patrols are submitted to relevant authorities for appropriate action.” 

The department issued the statement after the military’s Western Command, based in Palawan province, reported that it had monitored Chinese boats clustered near those areas. 

“From our last patrol in the area last week, they are still there,” the military source, who requested anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak to the press, told BenarNews. “We have reported all the details to the NTF-WPS for appropriate action.”

The NTF-WPS is the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea, and is composed of senior security officials and diplomats. 

On Wednesday, the Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request for comment.

The incident comes ahead of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s expected visit to Beijing early next month, his first presidential trip there to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

In September, Marcos met in New York with U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly to discuss geopolitics in Southeast Asia, specifically territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including waters within the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to areas of the waterway that overlap Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone as well.

Since taking office in June, Marcos has repeatedly stated that his government would assert a 2016 international arbitration court ruling, which Manila won and that invalidated China’s vast claims to the sea region. Beijing has ignored the ruling.

‘A rules-based order’

Faustino, the defense department official, said government lines were open for dialogue with the Chinese, but activities that “violate our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction, and undermine the peace and stability of the region, are unacceptable.”

“The Philippines remains committed to maintaining a rules-based order in the West Philippine Sea and the larger South China Sea, and reserves the right to deal with any situation that violates or threatens our territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Faustino said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs meanwhile said it would wait for official reports before commenting on the fresh incident.

“Diplomatic actions will be based on these events,” the foreign office said.

Last month, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris became the highest-ranking American official to visit Palawan, an island on the frontline of the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China.  

America, she said, has a “profound stake in the future” of the region, and stood ready to support the Philippines in the face of “intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea.”

Harris’ three-day visit was seen as an effort by the Biden administration to reset America’s longtime relationship and alliance with the Philippines, which had cooled under Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.

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