Manila sees this increased militarisation of the disputed maritime region as an act of “provocation” from Beijing. The Philippines said a large number of Chinese vessels docked at the Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea were not only manned with armed militia but were “a concern due to the possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to the safety of navigation”. The Philippines’ defence chief claimed more than 200 Chinese vessels were now manned by militias in the South China Sea.
The Philippines claimed the vessels were docked at a disputed reef that Manila said was under their territorial control.
Manila has now demanded Beijing step back from this “provocative action of militarising the area.”
On Sunday, Philippines’ defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana said: “We call on the Chinese to stop this incursion.
“We want China to immediately recall these boats violating our maritime rights.
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Because of this proximity, Manila claimed it was well within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
The country’s government watchdog said it “enjoys the exclusive right to exploit or conserve any resources” associated with the reef.
Now critics of Philippines’ president Rodrigo Duterte have hit out at him for not standing up to China’s aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea.
He has shied away from demanding Beijing observe an international arbitration ruling that has invalidated China’s historic ‘nine dash’ claim over the entire area.
Two years ago Mr Duterte, referring to Chinese president Xi Jinping, said: “When Xi says ‘I will fish,’ who can prevent him?”
He added: “If I send my marines to drive away the Chinese fishermen, I guarantee you not one of them will come home alive.”