The Philippines previously spotted unknown structures installed on a series of Manila-claimed islands and reefs in the disputed South China Sea during maritime patrols, where “a flotilla” of Chinese fishing vessels was earlier tracked by the military.
A warning has been issued to Beijing that a surge in territorial “incursions” by Chinese vessels in the South China Sea “may trigger unwanted hostilities that both countries would rather not pursue”, reported Reuters.
The prolonged presence of the boats in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was fraught with potential to strain bilateral relations, according to Salvador Panelo, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
“We can negotiate on matters of mutual concern and benefit, but make no mistake about it – our sovereignty is non-negotiable”, said the presidential legal counsel in a statement.
Earlier in March, Manila lodged a diplomatic protest over the presence of Chinese boats inside its 200-mile exclusive economic zone at Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea as “swarming and threatening”, insisting that the vessels were manned by Beijing’s maritime militia.
Sandy Cay & Whitsun Reef on 29 March by 🇪🇺#Sentinel2.
Can still see some probabale Chinese Fishing Vessels there. @AndrewSErickson @rdmartinson88 @ChinaMaritime @jaytaryela @CollinSLKoh @HungSon_DAV @Scs_Connect https://t.co/c6OGrDjzaR pic.twitter.com/9t2TkDxGLI
— Charlie B (@supbrow) March 30, 2021
“The Philippines calls on China to immediately withdraw these vessels flying its flag. Neither the Philippines nor the international community will ever accept China’s assertion of its so-called ‘indisputable integrated sovereignty’ over almost all of the South China Sea”, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea said in a statement.
The Philippines subsequently spotted unknown structures installed on a series of reefs where the “flotilla” of Chinese fishing vessels was earlier tracked.
The bulk of Chinese vessels anchoring at Whitsun Reef have left, according to Planet’s satellite image on March 28. pic.twitter.com/pBPz1sujM3
— Duan Dang (@duandang) March 29, 2021
“The Laws of the Sea gives the Philippines indisputable and exclusive rights over the area. These constructions and other activities, economic or otherwise, are prejudicial to the peace, good order, and security of our territorial waters. These structures are illegal”, Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Armed Forces of the Philippines, pointed out in a statement.
Chinese diplomats dismissed the claims, saying the boats were sheltering from rough seas and there were no militia aboard.
The Whitsun Reef is part of the Spratly archipelago – a resource-rich chain of islands, islets, and atolls – claimed by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.