MANILA – Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian on Wednesday insisted that the swarm of Chinese boats flagged in the Philippines’ latest diplomatic protest was only “taking shelter” in the waters off Julian Felipe Reef which is within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
The statement comes in the wake of a demand from the Philippine government to pull out its fishing vessels in relevant Spratly features, particularly the reef, which is located about 175 nautical miles off Palawan.
“As [what] we issued the day before yesterday, Chinese fishing vessels have been fishing in the area for many many years, now those vessels are taking shelter in the part of that sea, I think it’s a quite normal activity,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the CoronaVac vaccine arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
“There were no such militia vessels as claimed by some people, any speculation is not helping,” he added.
Over 200 “unauthorized” Chinese vessels were sighted in the Julian Felipe Reef as early as March 7 and have been “lingering” as of March 23, 2021 in the same area.
The Department of Foreign Affairs lodged a diplomatic note protesting the swarming and has called on Beijing to immediately withdraw its vessels near the reef and all relevant Kalayaan Island Group features.
Several foreign governments, including the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom, voiced concern over this latest South China Sea situation and opposed actions that may heighten tensions.
In a statement, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said Washington stands with Manila as its defense ally “regarding concerns about the gathering of PRC (People’s Republic of China) maritime militia vessels near Whitsun Reef.”
“We call on Beijing to stop using its maritime militia to intimidate and provoke others, which undermines peace and security,” he said on Tuesday night.
The US Embassy in Manila earlier claimed that Chinese boats have been mooring in the area “for many months in ever-increasing numbers, regardless of the weather”.
Japan, meanwhile, stressed that issues related to the South China Sea are “directly related” to the region’s peace and stability and a “concern for all” as it reiterated support for “free, open, and peaceful seas” and the enforcement of the rule of law.
British Foreign Minister Nigel Adams also noted the UK’s “concerns” on the South China Sea, particularly actions which raise tensions in the region. (PNA)