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The Philippine leader expressed concern to the Chinese envoy about the ‘flooded’ ships

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine arrived in the Philippines

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to defend the country’s maritime territories during a meeting with the Chinese ambassador, his spokesman said on Thursday, as international concern grew of the massive Chinese ships in the South China Sea.

The Philippines has filed diplomatic protests over the “overwhelming and intimidating presence” of more than 200 ships it considers to be piloted by maritime militias, which have been anchored at the Whitsun Reef in its exclusive economic zone. 200 miles of Manila.

“The president said we are really concerned. Any country will be interested in that number of ships,” Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said at a regular press conference when asked about meeting.

The United States, Japan and Canada have also expressed alarm about Chinese vessels.

Mr. Roque said Duterte had reassured with China’s ambassador, Huang Xilian, that the Philippines had won a landmark arbitration lawsuit in 2016, which outlined its sovereignty rights in context China has sovereignty claims.

That ruling also nullifies China’s claim to a nine-dash line over 90 percent of the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which at least $ 3.4 trillion of annual trade passes. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the meeting.

The embassy on Wednesday said the ships at the Whitsun Reef were fishing boats that shelter from rough seas. A Philippine military spokesman said China’s defense attach√© had denied having militias on board.

China’s assertiveness at sea left Mr. Duterte in a dilemma during his presidency for his praise and controversy against Beijing, which the Philippines has a history of distrust. ages ago long ago.

Mr. Duterte has been harshly criticized at home for his reluctance to speak out against China and instead blamed his closest US ally for creating conflict in the South China Sea.

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