Philippines Warns China of Daily Protests If ‘Militia’ Stays
(Bloomberg) -- The Philippines warned Beijing it would face a barrage of diplomatic protests if Chinese vessels believed to be part of a “maritime militia” do not leave disputed South China Sea areas, escalating the spat between the two nations.
“For every day of delay, the Republic of the Philippines will lodge a diplomatic protest,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Monday. It also repeated its call for the Chinese vessels to immediately withdraw from Whitsun Reef, which it maintained is part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
The latest statement came after China said on April 3 the waters had been “a traditional fishing ground for Chinese fishermen for many years” and it was “completely normal” for the vessels to “take shelter near the reef during rough sea conditions.” China pledged to safeguard peace and said it hoped Philippine officials would “avoid any unprofessional remarks which may further fan irrational emotions.”
The Foreign Ministry in Beijing didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment on the latest Philippine statement.
The presence of China’s vessels near the reef shows Beijing’s intent to occupy more disputed areas, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement Sunday.
China has “done this before” in other contested areas like Scarborough Shoal and is “brazenly violating Philippine sovereignty,” Lorenzana said. He was reacting to a statement from China’s embassy in Manila, which on Saturday described waters around the Whitsun Reef -- where hundreds of Chinese vessels were spotted early last month -- as “traditional fishing grounds” and “part of China’s Nansha Islands.”
The embassy’s statement “contained blatant falsehoods,” the Philippine Foreign Affairs Department said, citing its 2016 international arbitration victory against Beijing. The agency also reminded Chinese embassy officials that they are guests who must respect Philippine officials.
The remarks from the Defense and Foreign Affairs Departments signal a tougher stance from the Philippines government, which had initially issued a formal diplomatic protest to China saying the ships raised concerns on overfishing and safety of navigation. In a separate statement on Saturday, Lorenzana also refuted China’s earlier response that those vessels were sheltering from the wind, saying the weather in the area has been good.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin separately said on Sunday that he is “considering a demarche” following the Chinese Embassy’s claim that Whitsun Reef is part of China’s territory. He also said on Twitter that “swarming accomplishes nothing.”
The Philippines, under President Rodrigo Duterte, has in recent years been building friendly ties with China while keeping its alliance with the U.S. The Biden administration in late March expressed concerns over the presence of Chinese fishing vessels near the disputed reef, saying Beijing uses “maritime militia to intimidate, provoke and threaten other nations.”
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