Number of Chinese vessels surges in West Philippine Sea amid Balikatan

Michael Punongbayan - The Philippine Star
Number of Chinese vessels surges in West Philippine Sea amid Balikatan
This photo taken on Feb. 16, 2024 shows Filipino fishermen aboard their wooden boats (middle L and 2nd L) and Philippine Fisheries and Aquatic Resources personnel aboard their rigid hull inflatable boat (foreground C) sailing past a Chinese coast guard ship (top) near the China-controlled Scarborough Shoal, in disputed waters of the South China Sea.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — The number of Chinese vessels in Philippine waters – including warships – has significantly increased to more than a hundred in the past three weeks, as the country was preparing for this year’s Balikatan joint military exercise with the US, the Philippine Navy reported yesterday.

The buildup started early this month from April 2 to 8, comprising 78 vessels of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), China Coast Guard (CCG), Chinese maritime militia (CMM) and fishermen, according to Philippine Navy data.

During the period, there were 26 vessels around Panatag Shoal including a navy ship, 13 in Ayungin Shoal, 25 near Pagasa Island, five in Kota including another navy vessel, one in Lawak, six in Panata and two in Likas.

A slightly higher number of Chinese vessels was recorded between April 9 and 15, with most of them or 43 vessels sighted around Panatag Shoal.

But by April 16 to 22, or just when the Balikatan exercise was about to commence, the number of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea skyrocketed to 124.

The Philippine Navy said there are now 38 vessels near Panatag Shoal, 31 in Ayungin Shoal, 46 near Pagasa Island including a navy vessel, three in Parola, one navy vessel in Lawak, four in Panata and at least one naval ship in Patag.

In total, there are now three PLAN ships, 11 CCG vessels and 110 CMM boats in the West Philippine Sea where naval drills as part of Balikatan were being readied.

Balikatan 2024 will include a combined maritime activity or joint sail and training up to the fringes of the country’s exclusive economic zone.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines said it expects China to shadow the Balikatan activities, particularly the joint sail with the US and French navies.

The military stressed the exercise was not directed at any country.

Chinese hostile acts against Filipinos in the West Philippine Sea have become more brazen, with their coast guard ships even using powerful water cannons and making dangerous maneuvers to thwart resupply missions to BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

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