THE United States on Tuesday said it stands with the Philippines after more than 200 Chinese vessels were spotted moored at a reef in the South China Sea that Manila claims.
In a statement, the US Embassy in Manila said it “shares the concern” of the Philippines, which filed a diplomatic protest against China this week.
In a separate statement, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs demanded that China withdraw its fishing vessels and maritime assets at Whitsun Reef, accusing it of infringing on Philippine sovereignty.
“The continued deployment, lingering presence and activities of Chinese vessels in Philippine maritime zones blatantly infringe upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction,” the agency said.
It urged China to order its fishing vessels to stop environmentally destructive activities at the reef, which it said is within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.
The Philippine government earlier said it was concerned that the Chinese militia vessels had massed at the reef, which it calls Julian Felipe, with no actual fishing activities.
They had their full white lights turned on during night time, a national task force overseeing border disputes with Beijing said in a statement at the weekend, citing the Philippine Coast Guard.
The task force cited potential overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to navigation safety.
“The People’s Republic of China uses maritime militia to intimidate, provoke and threaten other nations, which undermines peace and security in the region,” the US Embassy said.
“Chinese boats have been mooring in this area for many months in ever increasing numbers, regardless of the weather. We stand with the Philippines, our oldest treaty ally in Asia,” it added.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila on Monday said the reef, which it calls Niu’e Jiao, is part of China’s Nansha Qundao.
It said some Chinese fishing vessels had taken shelter near Niu’e Jiao due to rough sea conditions.
The Chinese Embassy said the vessels there were not Chinese militia, adding that speculations cause “unnecessary irritation.”
Senators on Monday backed the Philippine government’s diplomatic protest against China.
Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said the presence of the Chinese vessels within the Philippine territory is a “severe provocation” that would only escalate tensions in the disputed waterway.
She accused China of rudely advancing into Philippine seas, adding that not aggravating the tensions is the absolute least China could have done in the middle of a global pandemic.
Ms. Hontiveros said the government should study other ways to make China pay, noting that there could be more environmental damage and loss of natural resources due to their presence at the reef.
Ms. Hontiveros last month said China owes the Philippines more than P800 billion in marine damage and losses in the South China Sea.
Senator Francis N. Pangilinan also backed the diplomatic protest, citing China’s “unabated militarization and expansionism in the West Philippine Sea” during the pandemic, referring to areas of the South China Sea with the country’s exclusive economic zone.
He accused China of using donated vaccines as a “geopolitical weapon.” — Vann Marlo M. Villegas