Chinese fleet in West Philippine Sea similar to purpose-built maritime militia vessels â analyst
This March 22, 2021 aerial photo shows Chinese vessels still present in the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea, well within the Philippine exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
Armed Forces of the Philippines

Chinese fleet in West Philippine Sea similar to purpose-built maritime militia vessels — analyst

Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - March 23, 2021 - 10:12am

MANILA, Philippines — The Chinese vessels seen in line formation near Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef off the coast of Palawan appear similar to purpose-built vessels of China's maritime militia, an analyst said.

Andrew Erickson, a professor at the China Maritime Studies Institute at the US Naval War College, noted that the 220 ships photographed in the coral reef in the West Philippine Sea look and operate like the steel-hulled vessels that lead the Sansha City Maritime Militia.

On Saturday, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea and the Philippine Coast Guard confirmed that Chinese fishing vessels, believed to be part of China's maritime militia, have been located on the reef on March 7.

"The NTF-WPS 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," the task force said.

Sansha militia

China's self-declared Sansha City claim administrative jurisdiction over the Spratly Islands, overlapping with the Philippines' claims in the area. 

Around the same time last year, Beijing established two new districts in the South China Sea under the jurisdiction of Sansha. The Department of Foreign Affairs then stressed that the Philippine government does not recognize Sansha City nor its constituent units.

Ships from Sansha City have been on rotational deployments to Chinese-claimed features in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, according to Erickson.

“Crewed by well-salaried full-time personnel recruited in part from former PLA ranks, they appear not to bother fishing – the better to focus on trolling for territory,” Erickson wrote on Foreign Policy.

Another standoff?

He added that these ships have weapons lockers and loaded with "light arms" based on official photos from the Chinese government.

"If not properly countered at Whitsun Reef, or elsewhere, PAFMM vessels could support further territorial seizure akin to China’s gains at Scarborough Shoal in 2012," Erickson said.

Malacañang, on the other hand, said the presence of Chinese maritime militia ships is unlikely to escalate into something similar to the Scarborough or Panatag Shoal standoff.

Less than a day after Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. lodged a diplomatic protest over the Chinese fleet in the West Philippine Sea, the military confirmed that the ships are still present in the area.

Still there

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana confirmed that the Air Force spotted at least 183 vessels in the area following its patrol.

The military's Western Command, based in Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, deployed a fixed-wing aircraft to check the area on Monday morning.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana called the presence of Chinese militia boats in the Julian Felipe Reef, which is well within the country's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, an incursion and urged the Chinese to immediately recall the vessels.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila insisted that there is no maritime militia involved, claiming that the ships seen near Julian Felipe Reef are fishing vessels.

"It has been a normal practice for Chinese fishing vessels to take shelter under such circumstances. There is no Chinese Maritime Militia as alleged. Any speculation in such helps nothing but causes unnecessary irritation," the Chinese Embassy said in a statement Monday night.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: April 5, 2021 - 3:42pm

The United States Navy's Nimitz-class nuclear powered supercarrier USS John C. Stennis continues underway in the South China Sea.

The US Pacific Command just reported that it has received "cargo" from support ship USNS Rainier in the disputed waters.

April 5, 2021 - 3:42pm

The Department of Foreign Affairs says Chinese Embassy’s statement in response to DND Sec. Lorenzana “contained blatant falsehoods such as claims of adverse weather conditions when there were none and the supposed non-existence of maritime militia vessels” in Julian Felipe Reef.

"The continued deployment, lingering presence, and activities of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea and China’s tolerance thereof blatantly infringe upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction," the agency says.

April 4, 2021 - 1:37pm

"China should respect Philippine sovereignty over the Kalayaan Islands and its sovereign rights over its Exclusive Economic Zone as defined by [UN Convention on the Law of the Sea]," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana says in response to the Chinese Embassy labelling his call for Chinese ships to leave the Julian Felipe Reef "perplexing."

The embassy also urged him to "avoid any unprofessional remarks which may further fan irrational emotions" over the South China Sea dispute.

"The continued presence of Chinese maritime militias in the area reveals their intent to further occupty features in the West Philippine Sea," Lorenzana says, citing previous activity at Panatag Shoal.

March 31, 2021 - 2:52pm

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea confirms that 44 Chinese maritime militia vessels remain moored, anchored and stationary at Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea as of March 29.

The task force also reports 115 Chinese ships have been monitored in Chigua (Kennan) Reef, 45 vessels in Pag-asa (Thitu) Island & other 50 vessels dispersed in Panganiban (Mischief), Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) and Zamora (Subi) Reefs, all within the Kalayaan Island Group.

Four Chinese navy vessels are also at Panganiban Reef, which is well within the country’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

March 25, 2021 - 10:15am

Lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives urge the chamber to condemn and conduct an inquiry into the presence of Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef.

The Makabayan bloc expresses concern that the deployment of Chinese maritime militia ships in the area may lead to "another level of disrespect" to Philippine sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea.

"It is feared that China will intensify the harassment and human rights violations against the Filipino people and further deprive them of their rights over the natural resources in the Philippine territory," the lawmakers write.

March 24, 2021 - 10:38am

Chinese maritime ships swarming Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea might be a prelude to occupying the whole area, retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio says.

The retired magistrate recalls that the same incident happened to Mischief Reef, which is now a Chinese air and naval base.

"They started saying they just built fisherman shelter on Mischief Reef. Now Mischief Reef is an air and naval base. They call it their Pearl Harbor in the South China Sea," Carpio says in an interview with ANC's "Headstart" with Karen Davila.

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