Over 100 Chinese militia ships spotted near Julian Felipe Reef, refused to leave: PCG

Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 28 2023 12:39 PM | Updated as of Apr 28 2023 01:25 PM

Philippine Coast Guard personnel attempt to disperse a large group of Chinese militia vessels in the West Philippine Sea. Photo from Philippine Coast Guard 
Philippine Coast Guard personnel attempt to disperse a large group of Chinese militia vessels in the West Philippine Sea. Photo from Philippine Coast Guard 

MANILA — Some 100 Chinese militia ships recently swarmed several areas in the West Philippine Sea and ignored Filipino authorities who told them to leave, the coast guard said on Friday. 

The PCG said it deployed 2 vessels to patrol the waterway from April 18 to24, during which it spotted more than 100 Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels near Julian Felipe Reef. 

"The PCG vessels deployed their Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB) to disperse the large CMM gathering. However, no CMM vessels reacted or made any attempts to vacate the area," the coast guard said in a statement. 

Eighteen Chinese militia ships were also detected near Sabina Shoal, which "did not respond or comply with the order to leave the area immediately," the PCG said. 

Four other Chinese ships which appeared to be engaged in fishing activities "were successfully driven away by the PCG vessels from the territorial sea of Pag-asa, at a distance of 4 nautical miles," the coast guard added. 

The PCG released the statement a day after Agence France-Presse reported a "near-crash" between Philippine and China vessels off the Spratly Islands on Sunday. 

It added that Chinese navy and coast guard ships shadowed the Philippines' BRP Malapascua and BRP Malabrigo during their patrol of a dozen islands and reefs in the waterway. 

"A Chinese coast guard ship cut off a Philippine patrol vessel carrying journalists in the disputed South China Sea, causing a near-collision, an AFP team on board another boat saw," the report said. 

The PCG accused Chinese ships of 'dangerous maneuvering and shadowing' of Philippine vessels near Ayungin Shoal. Philippine Coast Guard
The PCG accused Chinese ships of "dangerous maneuvering and shadowing" of Philippine vessels near Ayungin Shoal. Philippine Coast Guard

While the PCG did not characterize the incident as a "near-crash," it said that the Chinese ships "exhibited aggressive tactics." 

"CCG vessel 5201 was reported to have carried out dangerous maneuvers near BRP Malapascua, maintaining a perilous distance of only 50 yards. This close proximity posed a significant threat to the safety and security of the Philippine vessel and its crew," the PCG said.

The PCG said it submitted a report to the National Task Force West Philippine Sea (NTFWPS) regarding the incidents.

The 7-day circuit in the West Philippine Sea was ordered by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the PCG said.

Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually. Other claimants include the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

China has ignored a July 2016 ruling from The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that its historical claim is without basis.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, ignoring an international ruling that the assertion has no legal basis.

To back Beijing's claim, hundreds of Chinese coast guard and other vessels patrol the waters, swarming reefs and harassing and attacking fishing and other boats.

Over the past decade, China has also ripped up thousands of hectares of reef in the Spratlys to create militarized islands with runways, ports and radar systems.

Since taking office last June, Marcos has insisted he will not let China trample on the Philippines' rights in the sea -- in contrast to his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte who was reluctant to criticize Beijing.

Marcos has meanwhile gravitated towards the Philippines' traditional ally, the United States, as he seeks to strengthen their defense ties.

This shift has alarmed China, which has accused Washington of trying to drive a wedge between Beijing and Manila.

Manila this month announced the locations of 4 more military bases it is allowing the United States to use on top of the 5 agreed on under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, or EDCA.

The 4 additional bases include sites near the South China Sea and another not far from self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory.

The largest-ever war games between the Philippines and the United States, which end Friday, have also drawn Beijing's ire.


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