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Only 32 Chinese vessels left in West Philippine Sea reef â DND chief
This Oct. 3, 2019 satellite photo shows the repair of the runway and the construction of a new beaching ramp on Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea.
CSIS/AMTI via Maxar Technologies

Only 32 Chinese vessels left in West Philippine Sea reef – DND chief

Romina Cabrera (The Philippine Star) - April 11, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Only 32 Chinese vessels remain stationed around Julian Felipe Reef, but the Philippines will continue to demand their withdrawal, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said yesterday.

“From 220 on March 27, their number has gone down to 32 in the past three days. It’s good they (Chinese) followed our request for them to remove their ships from Julian Felipe,” Lorenzana said in Filipino on GMA News Digital.

He noted that the swarming of vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese militia personnel, has been a cause of alarm and concern for the Philippines.

“We will continue to ask them to remove the vessels, but they may keep one or two or three, but more than that will create alarm,” he said.

The Julian Felipe Reef is part of Kalayaan municipality and is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The swarming of 220 Chinese vessels in the reef set off a word war between the defense secretary and the spokesman of the Chinese embassy.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), for its part, filed diplomatic protests against Beijing over the incursion.

Lorenzana said he felt glad by the show of support for the Philippines by the United States and other nations on the West Philippine Sea issue.

“Not just America, many countries all over the world support our stance in the WPS. Anyway at the end of the day we would like to resolve the issue in a peaceful way,” he added.

Lorenzana said they are working with the US, a close ally, to resolve the West Philippine Sea issue within the framework of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

Regarding the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea, Lorenzana said China remains an obstacle to its inception.

The COC aims to set rules for all claimants, including on how accidents and other issues can be resolved.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. wants the MDT to cover civilian vessels.

“I’m not being sarcastic. Seriously, what if Filipinos on a pleasure craft, one of the many yachts out there, crosses an invisible line drawn by China in Philippine water? What if they are fired upon or heaven forbid rammed?” he said in a tweet.

“Will work to expand definition of trigger to include civilian passenger craft which is only logical. It already includes cyber infrastructure which if monkeyed with is tantamount to an attack on Metropolitan Philippines,” he added.

Signed in 1951, the MDT states that the Philippines and the US will come to the defense of each other in case of an attack by another country.

It defines armed attack as those that target the “metropolitan territory of either of the parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.”

A civilian vessel chartered by an ABS-CBN news team was chased by two fully armed and missile-equipped Chinese ships while inside Philippine territory on Thursday.

In its statement, the DFA said it is looking into the reports and will raise the matter with the Chinese government “if proven to be true.”

It also reminded the public to coordinate with Philippine authorities when planning a visit to the Kalayaan Island Group in the West Philippine Sea.

In response, ABS-CBN journalist Chiara Zambrano said their news team was in communication with the leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines “before, during and after the journey.”

The US State Department on Thursday reiterated Washington’s commitment to the MDT with the Philippines.

“As we have stated before, an armed attack against the Philippines armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, will trigger our obligations under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” said US State Department spokesman Ned Price. – Janvic Mateo

WEST PHILIPPINE SEA
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