MANILA: The Philippines will step up patrols in its part of the South China Sea, a coast guard official said on Sunday, after authorities recently recorded nearly 50 “Chinese maritime militia” ships in the contested, resource-rich waterway.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines reported on Friday the presence of 48 vessels believed to be part of “Chinese maritime militia” during an air patrol conducted in late June.
They were spotted “swarming” Iroquois Reef, which authorities said is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
“Based on our last monitoring, Chinese maritime militia (remains) in the area,” Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Cdre. Jay Tarriela said in a radio interview.
“The Philippine Coast Guard and the Armed Forces of the Philippines for this coming week will be intensifying our patrols to make sure that they will leave the reef.”
Over 100 Chinese vessels were also spotted in the Philippine part of the South China Sea in mid-April, consisting of the Chinese maritime militia and two ships from the Chinese Coast Guard.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entirety of the South China Sea based on its so-called “nine-dash line” stretching more than 1,500 km off its mainland and cutting into the exclusive economic zones of several countries, including the Philippines.
In 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague dismissed the expansive Chinese claim of the waters, but Beijing did not recognize the ruling and has in recent years rapidly developed its military presence, including by building artificial island bases in the contested waters.
Tarriela said their increased presence in the disputed waters is part of China’s “usual strategic objective, adding: “That is for them to occupy a particular feature, (they will) swarm the area for a very long period of time. If you fail to notice them. they will increase their number eventually.”
The PCG has adopted a strategy of its own to counter such approaches, by publicizing China’s activities in the South China Sea.
“Once we publicize these events, the international community condemns them and various embassies criticize such activities of China. When we follow up with the deployment of our government assets, they leave immediately,” Tarriela said.