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Philippines expresses concern about China ships moored at reef

THE PHILIPPINE government said it was concerned that more than 200 Chinese militia vessels had been moored at a Philippine-claimed reef in the South China Sea.

The Chinese vessels massed at Whitsun Reef showed no actual fishing activities and had their full white lights turned on during night time, a national task force overseeing border disputes with Beijing said in a statement at the weekend, citing the Philippine Coast Guard.

The task force “notes this circumstance as a concern due to the possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to safety of navigation,” it said.

The large boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Union Reefs located about 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan province is within the Philippine exclusive economic zone, it added. The reef, which the Philippines calls Julian Felipe, is also claimed by Vietnam.

The Philippines would not file a diplomatic protest unless recommended by the military, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. said. “Only if the generals tell me,” he tweeted.

American think tank Asia Maritime Transparency last year said China’s coast guard had increased its patrol activity at key reefs in the South China Sea.

China continued to deploy its maritime forces “around symbolically important features at the edges of the nine-dash line” on a nearly daily basis, the think tank said, citing automatic identification system data collected by MarineTraffic.

It said maritime patrols were conducted at Scarborough Shoal for 287 days from Dec. 1, 2019.

The Philippine task force said it would monitor the situation at the reef and assert the country’s sovereign rights.

“The government shall continue to peacefully and proactively pursue its initiatives on environmental protection, food security and freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea as part of its overall national security policy,” it said, referring to the part of the disputed water within the country’s exclusive economic zone. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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