FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. has left for Beijing for a scheduled meeting with Chinese and two Asean counterparts, with the tense situation in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) seen as part of the discussions.
Locsin, along with the foreign ministers of Malaysia and Singapore, will be in the Chinese capital from March 31 to April 2.
Since the beginning of March, the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) became a flashpoint due to the continuing presence of hundreds of Chinese Maritime Militia vessels in Julian Felipe Reef, in the Philippines’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Meanwhile, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) on Wednesday repeated its assertion of Philippine sovereignty, and sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the KIG (Kalayaan Island Group) in the WPS.
The Task Force said that despite the Philippines’s diplomatic protest over their fishing vessels swarming Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef), which the Chinese calls Niu’u Ejao Reef, “the Chinese Maritime Militia did not pull out and have remained in the reef.”
From Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef, the more than 200 fishing vessels “are now in other areas of the Kalayaan Island Group in the Municipality of Kalayaan, Palawan,” the task force added. See related story in Nation, “Bulk of Chinese ships remain in reef, some disperse to other areas of WPS.”
The NTF-WPS said it has conducted three routine aerial flights and maritime missions “complemented by the filing of a diplomatic protest by the Department of Foreign Affairs [DFA].”
The Task Force counted 220 Chinese militia vessels on March 7, 2021, and the number remained high at 183 on March 22, 2021.
On March 27, the Chinese vessels were counted at 199 and on March 29, there remained 44 CMM “moored, anchored, and stationary at Julian Felipe Reef.”
“The Philippines appreciates the statements of support from its international partners who share common adherence to rules-based order consistent with international law, including the Unclos, as affirmed by the 2016 Arbitral Award,” the task force said.
“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, part of which is the WPS.”
“The Philippines calls on China to immediately withdraw these vessels flying its flag,” as the NTF-WPS stands by its observation that these so-called fishing vessels are maritime militia.
The task force said the Chinese build-up and massing formation from Julian Felipe Reef to other areas of the Kalayaan Island Group “is hazardous to navigation and safety of life at sea.”
“They may be doing illicit activities at night and their lingering [swarming] presence may cause irreparable damage to the marine environment due to marine pollution and destruction of coral reefs. Their swarming also poses a threat to the peaceful exercise of sovereign rights of the Philippines in its EEZ.”
Image credits: AP