31 March 2021
by Gabriel Dominguez
Philippine authorities announced on 31 March that many of the Chinese fishing vessels that have been moored for weeks near the disputed Whitsun Reef in the Spratly Islands have dispersed to other areas in the South China Sea (SCS) that are also claimed by Manila.
The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) in Manila expressed “deep concern” over what it described as “the continuing unlawful presence (swarming) of the Chinese maritime militia (CMM), which did not pull out and have remained in Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef and are now in other areas of the Kalayaan Island Group in the Municipality of Kalayaan, Palawan”.
Citing the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF WPS), the PCOO noted that the number of Chinese vessels near the disputed reef had fluctuated in recent weeks: from 220 on 7 March to 183 on 22 March and 199 five days later.
More recently, on 29 March, that number dropped to 44, with Manila saying that 115 Chinese vessels, which “are believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel”, have now been spotted at Kennan Reef.
An image captured on 7 March showing some of the Chinese fishing vessels moored near the disputed Whitsun Reef in the Spratly island chain. (NTF-WPS)
Moreover, a total of 45 vessels were sighted near Philippine-administered Thitu (Pag-asa) Island and another 50 dispersed near Mischief, Fiery, and Subi reefs, all of which are also claimed by China. Four People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels were also spotted at Mischief Reef.
Manila called on China to “immediately withdraw these vessels flying its flag”, arguing that they are in areas that are part of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf of the main Philippine archipelago.
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Philippine authorities announced on 31 March that many of the Chinese fishing vessels that have been...