Chinese ships remain in Julian Felipe Reef, disperse to other West Philippine Sea areas
This handout satellite imagery taken on March 23, 2021 and received on March 25 from Maxar Technologies shows Chinese vessels anchored at the Whitsun Reef, around 320 kilometres (175 nautical miles) west of Bataraza in Palawan in the South China Sea. Chinese vessels gathered near a disputed reef in the South China Sea are "fishing boats" sheltering from poor weather, the foreign ministry said March 22, a day after the Philippines described their presence as an incursion.
AFP/Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies, Handout

Chinese ships remain in Julian Felipe Reef, disperse to other West Philippine Sea areas

Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - March 31, 2021 - 3:35pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Chinese fleet suspected to be part of China's maritime militia remains in Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef while some ships have been dispersed to other areas in the West Philippine Sea, according to the government.

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) on Thursday confirmed that at least 44 Chinese maritime militia vessels remain moored, anchored and stationary at Julian Felipe Reef as of March 29.

The task force initially reported that 220 Chinese boats have been recorded in the area on March 7.

While the number of ships in Julian Felipe Reef decreased, the remaining part of the Chinese fleet has scattered in other features in the Kalayaan Island Group, which is under the jurisdiction of Palawan.

The NTF-WPS also reported that 115 Chinese militia ships have been located in Chigua (Kennan) Reef and 45 vessels in Pag-asa (Thitu) Island.

Another 50 vessels were dispersed in China's "big three" artificial islands — Panganiban (Mischief), Kagitingan (Fiery) and Zamora (Subi) Reefs.

Four vessels from China's People's Liberation Army Navy have also been spotted on Panganiban Reef, where Beijing appears to plan to install more buildings based on satellite images released in February.

Opposing the Chinese Embassy's earlier claim that the ships in Julian Felipe Reef were just "fishing vessels taking shelter," the NTF-WPS stood by its position that these are maritime militia.

"Their build-up and massing formation from Julian Felipe Reef to other areas of the Kalayaan Island Group is hazardous to navigation and safety of life at sea," the NTF-WPS said.

It added that the Chinese ships may be doing illicit activities at night and may cause irreparable damage to the marine environment in the area.

"Their swarming also poses a threat to the peaceful exercise of sovereign rights of the Philippines in its EEZ," the task force said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. had filed a diplomatic protest following the report on the presence of Chinese ships in Julian Felipe Reef.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines have since conducted three rounds of routine aerial and maritime sovereignty patrol missions in the area.

World powers such as the United States, European Union, Australia, Japan, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand have expressed support for the Philippines, calling on China to adhere to rules-based order consistent with international law, including the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

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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