Bangkok, Apr 13 (EFE).- The Philippines called Chinese ambassador Huang Xilian on Tuesday following the escalation of tension over the “prolonged illegal presence” of Chinese ships in Philippine waters of the disputed South China Sea.
The Philippine Foreign Department wrote a statement about its “displeasure” at the “persistent presence” of these ships around the Whitsun Reef and the Philippines considers a maritime militia although China claims they are fishing vessels.
“We reiterate the firm demand of the Philippines that China ensure the immediate departure of all its vessels from the Julián Felipe Reef area (as the Whitsun Reef is known in the Philippines) and other Philippine maritime areas,” the statement said.
The Philippines, which had not summoned a Chinese ambassador for this dispute since 2019, said at the meeting that “both parties agreed to lower tensions and handle the matter diplomatically,” a foreign spokesman told the media. He added that there must however be a withdrawal of all ships from the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone — the 200 miles of water from its coast — something that has not yet taken place.
Shortly after the meeting, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin wrote on Twitter that China has been progressively withdrawing its ships from the disputed area, but that there are still nine ships left around the reef.
The Philippines insists those ships — which in March numbered more than 200, prompting several diplomatic protests that have been ignored by China — are “a source of regional tension.”
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei claim parts of this strategic sea — through which 30 percent of global trade circulates and which is home to 12 percent of the world’s fishing grounds, in addition to oil and gas deposits — although China and Taiwan claim the sovereignty of those waters almost entirely.
At the moment, the Philippines is the only country that has a ruling that supports its claims, since the Permanent Court of Arbitration of The Hague attributed it the ownership of several territories of the South China Sea, Scarborough Atoll and part of the Spratly archipelago. China has built military bases on artificial islands atop atolls and reefs to de facto take over.
China, which appeals to historical rights over the zone, never recognized the court’s ruling and continues with its military and fishing activities within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. EFE