MANILA — Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. on Thursday told China to order its remaining maritime militia vessels “to move out” of Julian Felipe Reef following Beijing’s statement that it does not plan to maintain a permanent presence in the area.
The reef, also known as Whitsun Reef, is a large boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs or Union Reefs, a group of features under the jurisdiction of the Municipality of Kalayaan, Palawan. It is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
In a tweet, Locsin said he does not believe China’s statement justifying its fleet’s presence in the area to fish, noting the vessels’ formation.
At least 40 boats remained in the area during the last surveillance March 29, according to a Philippine government task force.
“Then tell them to move out. All of them. If they’re really fishing the fish are all gone; they’re just fouling the water with waste. Nobody fishes by lashing ships together,” Locsin pointed out.
He said the move is part of a possible “invasion.”
“Last time that was done was the Persian invasion of Greece recorded by Herodotus. We’ve seen the movie.”
In his regular press conference in Beijing on April 6, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian claimed China has no plans in establishing a permanent presence in Julian Felipe reef.
The Chinese official, however, reiterated his country’s claim that the reef, which they call as Niu'e Jiao, is part of China’s Nansha Islands and that the 2016 arbitral ruling on the South China Sea is “illegal, null, and void.”
Zhao also claimed the area has “always been an important fishing ground and shelter for Chinese fishermen,” adding it is “normal… for Chinese fishing vessels to fish in the waters and take shelter during rough sea conditions.” He urged the Philippines to “immediately stop wanton hype-up, and avoid casting negative influence on bilateral relations and the overall peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
Up to 220 Chinese vessels were first monitored at the reef on March 7. While the number has gone down, several other Chinese ships were also monitored in other features in the West Philippine Sea.
The lingering presence of Beijing’s fleet led the Department of Foreign Affairs to file a fresh diplomatic protest Wednesday, with Locsin vowing to do so every day until the last Chinese ship is gone from the reef.
The United States, Japan, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom have criticized China's incursions in the West Philippine Sea as it could threaten global and regional stability.
— report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News
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