Bangkok, Apr 5 (efe-epa).- The growing diplomatic spat between China and the Philippines intensified Monday after Manila warned of daily protests if Beijing did not withdraw its alleged maritime militia vessels from a disputed reef in the South China Sea waters.
“For every day of delay, the Republic of the Philippines will lodge a diplomatic protest,” a foreign ministry statement said, urging China to “immediately withdraw” the Chinese ships.
The Philippines last week lodged its diplomatic protest with the Chinese embassy in Manila over the “swarming and threatening presence” of the Chinese maritime militias anchored at Whitsun Reef.
On Mar.7, the Philippine navy captured images showing the boats, suspected to be manned by Chinese maritime militias, anchored at the reef, known in the Philippines as Julian Felipe Reef.
It is a shallow coral reef 175 nautical miles west of the island of Palawan within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
On Sunday, the Chinese embassy in Manila defended the presence of the vessels in the disputed waters that it said was “a traditional fishing ground for Chinese fishermen for many years.”
The Chinese statement said it was “completely normal” for the vessels to “take shelter near the reef during rough sea conditions.”
It pledged to safeguard peace and said it hoped Philippine officials would “avoid any unprofessional remarks which may further fan irrational emotions.”
The Philippine Armed Forces have, however, said several aerial inspections in the area in recent weeks found that some 44 boats were still moored on the reef.
The Philippine foreign minister rejected the Chinese claim that the area is part of China’s “traditional fishing grounds,” noting that “tradition yields to law.”
It said the Chinese statement contained “blatant falsehoods” when it claimed that the Chinese vessels stay in the area due to poor weather and that there are no “maritime militia vessels” in Philippine waters.
“The statement also attempted to promote the clearly false narrative of China’s expansive and illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea,” the statement said.
The China embassy called Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s statement on the presence of Chinese ships “unprofessional.”
The foreign ministry statement “strongly” denounced the embassy’s “attempt to impugn” Lorenzana.
It reminded Chinese embassy officials that as guests of the country, they must “observe protocol and accord respect” to Philippine government officials.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei claim parts of the strategic sea, which serves as a passage for 30 percent of the global trade and is home to 12 percent of the worldwide fish resources, apart from housing oil and gas reserves.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire area. EFE-EPA