South China Sea tensions escalate as Manila denounces Chinese boats incursion in own water

THE PHILIPPINES reported what it said were incursions into its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) by 287 maritime militia vessels from China, in a further sign of cracks reappearing in a relationship after a period of rapprochement.

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Philippines opposes Chinese ‘incursions’ into waters in statement

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The Philippine foreign ministry has repeatedly complained to China in recent weeks about a “swarming and threatening presence” of Chinese vessels in its EEZ and has demanded they be withdrawn. The Philippines has recently boosted its presence in the South China Sea through “sovereignty patrols”, in a show of defiance that critics say has been lacking under its pro-China president, Rodrigo Duterte, who has drawn domestic flak for his refusal to stand up to Beijing.

WION correspondent Nikhil Naz said: “The Philippines has reported what it said were incursions into its exclusive economic zone by 287 maritime malitia vessels from China.

“This is a further sign of cracks reappearing in a relationship after a period of rapprochement.

“The countries taskforce in the South China Sea said in a statement that the incident may prompt possible diplomatic actions.

“Quoting from the statement, along with continued illegal incursions of foreign vessels sighted near Philippine-held islands have been submitted to the relevant agencies for the possible diplomatic actions.”

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The Philippines has ramped up its rhetoric in recent weeks over Chinese boats (Image: GETTY)

The Philippine foreign ministry has repeatedly complained to China in recent weeks (Image: GETTY)

Experts say China’s fleet fishing boats and coastguard are central to its strategic ambitions in the South China Sea, maintaining a constant presence that complicates fishing and offshore energy activities by other coastal states.

Chinese officials have previously denied there are militia aboard its fishing boats.

Duterte caused a stir last week when he said a landmark 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that went in the Philippines’ favour in a dispute with China was just a “piece of paper” that he could throw in the trash.

The tribunal also ruled that China’s claims to almost the entire South China Sea where about $3 trillion (£2.1 trillion) worth of ship-borne trade passes each year, had no legal basis.

President Xi Jinping claims China has a historic right of ownership to almost the entire sea (Image: GETTY)

South China Sea: Expert discusses tensions

Defence and security analyst Jose Antonio Custodio said Duterte’s comments “cancels-out” the tougher tone being taken with China by his top diplomats and defence chiefs.

“We don’t have unity in messaging,” Custodio said. “That is encouraging China’s actions.”

It comes just days after the Philippines has rejected an annual summer fishing ban imposed by China in the disputed South China Sea and encouraged its boats to keep fishing in the country’s territorial waters.

The fishing moratorium imposed by China since 1999 runs from May 1 to Aug. 16 and covers areas of the South China Sea as well as other waters off China.

“This fishing ban does not apply to our fishermen,” the Philippines’ South China Sea taskforce said in a statement.

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South China Sea map (Image: EXPRESS)

The taskforce opposed China’s imposition of the ban over the areas within the territory and jurisdiction of the Philippines, adding “our fisherfolk are encouraged to go out and fish in our waters in the WPS (West Philippine Sea)” The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Manila, which refers to area as the West Philippine Sea, has for years been embroiled in a dispute over Beijing’s sweeping claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea.

An international tribunal in 2016 invalidated China’s claims, but China has rejected the ruling.

The Philippines has filed diplomatic protests against China over what it calls the “illegal” presence of the Chinese vessels, which it says are manned by militia.