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

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
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

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: July 14, 2021 - 8:49am

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.

July 14, 2021 - 8:49am

Geospatial imagery and analysis firm Simularity stands behind its report on ships dumping raw sewage in the West Philippine Sea, adding a stock photo used in its presentation was not used in its analysis.

"We welcome the news that Philippine agencies are validating our research and results. It is all reproducible, based on publicly available sources, well understood algorithms, and the approach and interpretation are validated by readily available scientific papers, links to which you can find in our report," it says.

July 13, 2021 - 2:44pm

The Department of Environemnt and Natural Resources says it will coordinate with the Philippine Coast Guard and the Department of National Defense "on the authenticity of the allegation" that Chinese ships have been dumping raw waste in areas of the West Philippine Sea, which satellite imaging firm Simularity said has been causing damage to coral reefs in the Spratlys.

"After that, we will be seeking for the attention of the Chinese government through our Department of Foreign Affairs," Undersecretary Benny Antiporda, DENR spokesperson, says.

"We will also validate if indeed these are Chinese vessels," he also says.

July 8, 2021 - 10:59am

Akbayan party-list is planning a rally in front of the Chinese Consular Office in Makati City on July 12 to mark the 5th year since the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on China's sweeping claims in the South China Sea.

"The win upheld the country's sovereign rights within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) against China's 'nine-dash line,' stemming from the landmark case filed by the administration of President Benigno Simeon "Noynoy" Aquino III in 2013," Akbayan says in an advisory.

"The Arbitral Ruling is first and foremost the result of the Filipino people's courageous struggle against foreign aggression, which was matched by President Aquino's strong resolve to file a landmark case against China before the International Tribunal," Dr. RJ Naguit, Akbayan spokesperson, also says.

May 31, 2021 - 11:14am

The government should name and identify rocks and features in the Kalayaan Island Group to assert Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, a senator says Monday.

"The features we occupy in the KIG remain unnamed. Mapapalakas ang paggiit natin ng ating karapatan sa WPS kung malinaw ang pangalan, katangian, at sakop ng mga inaangkin nating teritoryo. Udyukin na ng DENR ang National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) para simulan ang pag-papangalan ng mga ito," Sen. Risa Hontiveros says in a statement. 

May 18, 2021 - 10:04pm

The Philippines protests China’s unilateral fishing ban in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.

The Department of Foreign Affairs says the Philippines does not recognize China’s fishing moratorium as it covers areas over which the country exercises sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.

"China’s annual fishing moratorium extends far beyond China’s legitimate maritime entitlements under UNCLOS and is without basis under international law," the DFA says in a statement.

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