© Reuters. Some of the approximately 220 ships reported by the Philippine Coast Guard were photographed at the Whitsun Reef, South China Sea.
(Reuters) – The Philippines on Monday complained to China about what it described as the “overwhelming and threatening presence” of Chinese ships in disputed waters in the South China Sea and asked them to withdraw from area.
Filipino officials say about 220 ships, believed to be operated by Chinese maritime militia personnel, were anchored at the Whitsun Reef, which Manila calls the Julian Felipe Reef, on March 7.
The Chinese embassy in Manila on Monday said the boats were found to be fishing boats and are taking refuge due to rough sea conditions.
“The continued deployment, prolongation of the presence and operations of Chinese ships infringes upon the sovereignty of the Philippines,” the Philippine Foreign Ministry said in a diplomatic objection, adding “presence Their overwhelming and threatening atmosphere created an atmosphere of uncertainty. ”
The Chinese Embassy in Manila has denied the allegations.
“There is no Chinese maritime militia as alleged. Any such speculation does nothing but cause unnecessary discomfort,” it said in a statement.
Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana said the presence of the militia ships was a “clear provocation aimed at militarizing the area” and urged China to withdraw them.
The US embassy in Manila said Chinese vessels had been anchored in the area for months in increasing numbers, regardless of weather, and accused China of using its maritime militia. to “threaten, provoke and intimidate other nations.”
An international court invalidated China’s claim to 90% of the South China Sea in 2016, but Beijing did not recognize the ruling and built islands in disputed waters with radar equipment, rockets and pylons for fighters.
Jay Batongbacal, an expert on the South China Sea at the University of the Philippines, said President Rodrigo Duterte’s “friendship policy” to move away from Washington and closer to China was the cause of the invasions.
“Whatever opportunities were for us to slow them down or stop them, they were lost,” Batongbacal said.
China claims almost all of the energy-rich South China Sea, which is also a major trade route. The Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims.
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