Philippines sounds fresh China alarm over ships in EEZ


This comes as the Navy’s top officer says it is committed to launching joint sea patrols with the Philippines.

Philippines sounds fresh China alarm over ships in EEZ

Caption: China coast guard vessel CCG-5304 as seen from a Philippine patrol aircraft above Sabina Shoal, Feb. 21, 2023.

The U.S. is “committed and focused” to conducting joint patrols with the Philippines in the South China Sea, its navy chief said, as Manila again accused China of keeping coast guard ships in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of U.S. naval operations, made a two-day visit to the American ally this week to discuss how to “improve our interoperability together in the South China Sea and across the region.”

As Gilday visited Manila, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) issued a statement saying that one of its patrol aircraft had spotted a China Coast Guard ship and at least 26 suspected Chinese maritime militia vessels during a fly-over in the area around Ayungin (Second Thomas Shoal) and Sabina Shoals in the South China Sea.

The area is well within the Philippine EEZ where Manila has exclusive rights to the sea resources.

As the Philippine plane approached Sabina Shoal, in the Spratly Islands, “it received inaudible radio challenges, both in English and Chinese, from CCG-5304 [Chinese vessel] currently continuing to maintain presence in the area,” the statement said.

The same thing happened when the aircraft came within 10 nautical miles (18.5 kilometers) of Ayungin Shoal, less than 200 kilometers from Palawan, the largest province of the Philippines.

Ayungin Shoal is where the BRP Sierra Madre, an old naval ship, was deliberately run aground by the Philippine military to serve as an outpost since 1999.

Philippine reporters invited aboard the flight said they heard warnings that the plane was “entering the vicinity of Chinese territory” and it was requested to leave immediately.

They also received a text message that said “Welcome to China!”

The PCG responded by issuing its own radio challenge “directing the CCG-5304 to leave the area immediately.”  

Increased tensions

Last year in March, April and June, the Philippines filed several protests against what it called “swarming” by Chinese fishing vessels near Whitsun Reef.

The reef, known as Julian Felipe Reef in the Philippines, is located in the Kalayaan Islands in the South China Sea and claimed by the Philippines, China and Vietnam.

Hundreds of Chinese fishing boats were seen forming clusters around the reef, part of the contested Spratly Islands. Beijing said they were sheltering from approaching storms.

In the latest pictures taken by the PCG aircraft on Tuesday, similar formations of Chinese boats were also observed.

The Philippines suspect they could be from the Chinese maritime militia, an increasingly powerful armed fishing fleet funded by the Beijing government.

On Thursday, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela told a press briefing that PCG vessels would be deployed to drive the Chinese ships away and “to prevent the Chinese maritime militia from swarming our exclusive economic zone.” 

The situation in the area has been heating up recently after the Philippines accused the Chinese coast guard of pointing a military-grade laser at one of its vessels, temporarily blinding the crew, on Feb. 6.

The Philippine ship was on a mission to deliver food and supplies to the troops stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

Manila lodged a diplomatic protest and summoned the Chinese ambassador, but Beijing dismissed the accusation, saying its coast guard ship was not equipped with industrial-grade lasers.

Western countries, including the United States, voiced support for the Philippines and condemned the Chinese coast guard’s action.

On Wednesday, visiting Australian Minister of Defense Richard Marles said after meeting here with his Filipino counterpart that Australia and the Philippines were to sign a strategic partnership later this year.

Both countries are “looking at ways in which we can pursue joint patrols together in the South China Sea, and looking at ways in which we can do more exercises together,” Marles told reporters in Manila.

BenarNews staff contributed to this report. BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated service.

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