South China Sea: Tensions skyrocket as ‘provocative’ Beijing swarms region with militia

Antony Blinken confronts China officials at US summit

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Delfin Lorenzana, Philippine defence chief, demanded China recall more than 200 fishing vessels, armed with militia, from a South China Sea reef it claims. China has been previously been accused of violating international law in sending its vessels to waters claimed by other Asia-Pacific countries.

The Philippines’ coast guard reported around 220 armed fishing vessels were moored at Whitsun Reef, which Manila calls Julian Felipe Reef, on March 7.

Mr Lorenzana issued a statement condemning the presence of the boats in the Philippines-claimed portion of the South China Sea.

He described the their presence as a “provocative action of militarising the area”.

The statement added: “We call on the Chinese to stop this incursion and immediately recall these boats violating our maritime rights and encroaching into our sovereign territory.”

A Philippine cross-government task force stated on Saturday China’s presence in the area raises concern about overfishing and the destruction of the marine environment.

Philippines security officials believe the fishing boats are manned by Chinese military-trained personnel.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr tweeted the Philippines would only file a protest against the Chinese incursion “if the generals tell me”.

He added: “In my watch, foreign policy is the fist in the iron glove of the armed forces.”

Last year, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told the United Nations General Assembly the country has legal protections guaranteeing parts of the South China Sea are within its exclusive economic zone.

Referencing the Hague’s ruling, he said: “The award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish, or abandon.

“We firmly reject attempts to undermine it.”

Previously, Mr Duterte refused to criticise China for fishing in its waters, stating in 2019: “When Xi says ‘I will fish,’ who can prevent him?

“If I send my marines to drive away the Chinese fishermen, I guarantee you not one of them will come home alive.”

In January, the Philippines protested at a new Chinese law allowing its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels, describing it as a “threat of war”.

China has become increasingly assertive over its disputed claims to the waters, regularly launching military drills in the region to defend its claims.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking to reporters ahead of his meeting with Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi, blasted Beijing’s aggressive claims to the disputed waters among other issues.

He told reporters China’s actions “threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability.

He then added: “That’s why they’re not merely internal matters, and why we feel an obligation to raise these issues here today.”

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